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Film

FILM CLUB: Flirting With Disaster @ Boa 11/20

Posted by Asmaa / November 19, 2006

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David O. Russell is not an easy director. It's not that his themes are overly challenging or his characters too difficult to identify with. He is, to put it bluntly, a bully.

New York Times reporter Sharon Waxman (Rebels in the Backlot) has a long-standing feud with the director, who slammed her for her 2004 portrayal of him as an overgrown, ADD-afflicted child who stripped down to his boxers and rolled in the grass on the set of I Heart Huckabees. Earlier that year, Russell attacked Memento director Christopher Nolan at a fancy Hollywood restaurant and put him in a headlock after hearing that Nolan cast Jude Law away from Huckabees. And perhaps, most infamously, on the set of 1999's Three Kings, Russell and his star George Clooney got into a fistfight after Clooney objected to the way the director was treating the extras. Russell reportedly later said: "I wouldn't make another George Clooney movie if they paid me $20 million." Smart man.

At a time when filmmakers are so PR-managed and "independent" directors like Quentin Tarantino are part of the starmaker machinery, Russell is a refreshing iconoclast. His first film, 1994's Spanking the Monkey, brings Benjamin Braddock into the age of pre-millennial angst. His second, Flirting With Disaster, channels the screwball spirit of Bringing Up Baby and runs with it until it collapses into a heap of sweet exhaustion.

Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette play Mel and Nancy, a husband and wife who work at the Museum of Natural History (likely a reference to Cary Grant's paleontologist). The recent birth of their baby boy sparks Mel's interest in finding his biological parents. He hires Tina, an adoption agent played by a kooky and sexy Téa Leoni, to help track them down. She leads the couple on a wild-goose chase that takes them from New York to California to meet his bubbly, blond twin "sisters" and finally, to New Mexico, where he meets his hippie ("Jerry Garcia ... blah, blah, blah") parents brilliantly played by Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda.

Watching the last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, when Larry David finds his "real" parents, reminded me of Flirting With Disaster. While he shares David's self-deprecating sense of humour, Ben Stiller's Mel has a lot less self-confidence and a lot more neuroses on his sleeve. It's fun to watch him go back and forth between his wife's post-partum neediness and Tina's loopy sex appeal. This is, by far, Stiller's best movie performance and it makes me nostalgic for a time when I thought he could do no wrong.

One of my favourite scenes in the movie is when Mel and Tina sneak down to the kitchen of a bed-and-breakfast past the 8 p.m. curfew to make a phone call. The old lady who owns the place finds them there and starts yelling: "You are not B&B people! You are not B&B people!"

So, come on out to Boa at 5301 St. Laurent on Monday night for some beer, popcorn and a case of the super-funny. The movie will start after 8:30 p.m. and this time, there will be cheat sheets.

To any film distributors reading this: Call Omar. This film club thing is all his idea. His number is 514-555-55 ...

Discussion

10 Comments

J Mac / November 21, 2006 at 09:43 am
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Wow, that was truly great. What ever happened to Tea Leoni? I can't think of anything she's done since that comes close to her performance in this. Or maybe I'm just avoiding the bigger question: what ever happened to Ben Stiller? And why did he wear his pants so high? Was that how pants were worn a decade ago?
omar / November 21, 2006 at 10:19 am
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Though I still think your declaration that Flirting With Disaster is the Cannonball Run of the 90s is a bit inaccurate - I do think agree with the Bringing Up Baby part though - I'm glad you invited us to rewatch this David O. Russell gem. In the wake up his more messy works (3 Kings and I Heart Huckabees), this more coherent work really sticks out.
asmaa / November 21, 2006 at 06:25 pm
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1. tea leoni married david duchovny and consequently, they both went nowhere.

2. ben stiller's real problem is that he is an incredibly self-obsessed performer and he channels it to great neurotic effect in this movie, but otherwise he just overcompensates by hamming it up.

3. the more i think about it, i think The Cannonball Run of the 90s is a fair comparison. they differ wildly in their calibre of wit, but they share the same giddy spirit. one could go so far as to argue ben stiller and tea leoni were the burt reynolds and farrah fawcett of the decade. ... well, maybe not that far.
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