A quirky comedy of manners about the last party you would ever want to attend.
A great debut effort by Todd Berger (writer and director), this is one of the quirkiest comedies you will see. Four couples get together for a potluck Sunday Brunch to renew the ties that have made then friends. Sort of. Actually, the four couples would seem to have more in common with a dysfunctional family than with peers and school chums. The men seem only marginally attached to their wives and lovers and have little in common with each other. The women are in the same boat.The film starts out like Luis Buñuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” with the ceremony of the planned, weekly thirty-something couples’ brunch amplifying the differences between the eight persons involved rather than bringing them together. The first part of the screenplay underscores the failure of the artificial meeting to correct what the people themselves cannot.
The brunch is a Band-Aid placed on top of the festering wound of the friends’ alienation with each other and the outside world in general. There is something very wrong here. The brunch seems to be serving more as last rights, than as a celebration of friendship.
David Cross (writer for “Mr. Show with Bob and David,” Tobias Fünke in “Arrested Development”) and Julia Stiles (“State and Main” and the “Dexter” TV series) open the film as they are driving to the brunch. Julia knows the group and advises David on the proper protocol, which is bound to fail since the two cannot seem to communicate about anything even during the short car ride.
This superficial bickering about minutia will be amplified throughout the film, echoing the practice of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, as time runs out.
David Cross’s character Glenn plays the straight man for most of the film. He is the outsider that soon doubts his own sanity when plunged into the melee. In the end he becomes a doer rather than a watcher but it is up to the viewer to decide if he is doing the right thing, or has become completely detached from his sanity.
The group dynamic further deteriorates into a combination of Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and Sarte’s “No Exit,” as everyone tries to figure out the next step towards becoming actual friends with their best friends, or, at least, defining their place in the group and the world. At this point, next door neighbor Hal knocks on the door. Hal is curious about the party and why he was not invited.
Also, dressed in a hazmat suit, he has come to inform the group that there has been a chemical attack of some sort and people everywhere are dying. As the film progresses, the scientists in the group deduce that they will all die in the next few hours.
OK. The group barricades themselves into the house and each person decides what to do with the last hours of their lives. Some decide to stick it out and some decide to end it all. Attempts at ending it all result in just further confirmations of the characters’ helplessness and inability to affect their own situations in life. They cannot even kill themselves.
In the course of this, true personalities emerge. This turn of plot is predictable enough and provides a good platform for further soul searching. However, Berger does not pull it off with complete success. The actors deliver their lines with an unforced, breezy straightforwardness that is refreshing, but they fail to have either the biting sarcasm of “Dilbert” or the cleverness of a Woody Allen comedy.
The bizarre set-up goes only so far in propelling the personalities of the characters and actors and the screenplay ultimately fails to provide the rest.
In the end, there is a note of hopefulness poking through the heavy overcast, or, at least, that is one way of interpreting it. You will have to see the film to decide for yourself.
Directed and Written by: Todd Berger
Starring: Rachel Boston, Kevin M. Brennan and David Cross
Release Date: April 12, 2013
MPAA: Rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug content
Run Time: 140 Minutes