"Flirting with Disaster"
by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)
Ben Stiller as MEL COPLIN
Patricia Arquette as NANCY COPLIN
Tea Leoni as TINA
Alan Alda as RICHARD SCHLICHTING
Mary Tyler Moore as MRS. COPLIN
George Segal as MR. COPLIN
Lily Tomlin as MARY SCHLICHTING
Josh Brolin as TONY
Directed by: David O. Russell
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“Flirting with Disaster” is one of those gems of independent films that few people remember but everyone seems to know about. It has an all-star cast that, at the time, couldn’t carry a movie alone. The top bill in the movie is Ben Stiller, but this was before he was coming out with a movie every six weeks. This was pre-“There’s Something About Mary” when the six or seven people who actually watched either version of “The Ben Stiller” show were the only people who knew who he was.
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It also stars Tea Leoni in her pre-David Duchovney days. The film was released after she came to light with “The Naked Truth,” but her ego was still relatively in check. The other names in the film include Patricia Arquette, Alan Alda, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal and Lily Tomlin - who all either only saw success on television or work in movies but never broke into leading role status on the silver screen.
The humbling careers of all of the stars of this film helped contribute to its greatness. This movie wasn’t a vehicle for anyone. It was one of those fortunate projects that had a cast working for the film rather than for their respective careers.
“Flirting with Disaster” tells the story of Mel Coplin (Ben Stiller), a neurotic entomologist who hasn’t found his true identity because he never knew his birth parents. In fact, Mel is so wound up about his own identity that he can’t bring himself to name his four-month old child. He schedules a visit with Tina (Tea Leoni) at the adoption agency, and she offers to help him find his birth parents.
This leads Mel and his wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) on a cross-country wild goose chase to find his mom and dad (much to the chagrin of Mel’s adoptive parents, two ultra-neurotic New York socialites). However, with mix-ups in the adoption paperwork and false leads, this proves to be a bigger challenge than once though. To make things worse, Mel starts to have the hots for Tina, and Nancy starts to have wandering eyes for FBI agent Tony (Josh Brolin), a bisexual former classmate with an armpit fetish, whom they run into when they accidentally level a post office in Detroit.
I’m not adopted, but I have friends that are adopted, and I know that finding biological parents can be a pretty significant issue for some people. I have seen, adoptive parents blanche at the mention of their kids searching for their biological parents. However, I believe that if I were adopted, I would realize that it is not the genetics that make a mom and dad, but how they raise their kids. And this is the message of the movie.
Although the characters in “Flirting with Disaster” find themselves in some pretty unbelievable positions, their reactions are astoundingly real. There is not a mentally healthy person in the bunch, yet they all possess a level of adorability. The film itself balances nicely between absurdity and hilarity. Made without the heavy-handed messaging that permeates many of the independent movies of the 1990s, “Flirting with Disaster” can be a lot of fun.
This new DVD, part of Miramax’s Collector’s Series, has some decent but slim features. There are several deleted scenes that add new insight into the characters, especially Tina’s history and mindset. Even funnier are the series of outtakes from the feature and the deleted scenes. While not as laugh-out-loud funny as some blooper reels I’ve seen on DVDs, it is clear when watching this that the cast was comfortable with each other and had their own fun on set.
The only other extra on this disc is a pretty standard behind-the-scenes featurette produced back when the film was released. Finally, look to Mary Tyler Moore’s breasts to find an Easter Egg that is clearly an inside joke between Patricia Arquette and director David O. Russell.
Still, with a thin selection of special features, “Flirting with Disaster” is one of those great little films that was better than many big films out there. And, it also serves as a humorous reminder that we all have our dysfunctions we grew up with, and it ain’t bad to embrace them at times.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. French language track; English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.