Imagine the funniest movie you’ve ever seen. “Flirting With Disaster” is funnier.
And it has a plot. Miraculous and impossible as that may seem, the film takes a witty, quirky story, combines it with 80 minutes of Ben Stiller-style comedy, and comes out with a masterpiece.
Stiller stars as Mel Coplin, an adopted son in search of his birth parents. He thinks finding them will give him some sort of inner peace and help him name his four-monthold son. His wife Nancy, played by Patricia Arquette, thinks this idea isn’t all bad if it’ll help, but she has some doubts.
His parents, though, feel quite differently. Played brilliantly by Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal, they feel threatened by the idea and make no effort to hide their feelings. This makes for the first hilarious scene in the movie.
Then, just for variety, a psychology student (Tea Leoni) is thrown in. Tina Kalb goes with the couple on their journey to find Mel’s birth parents to study the psychological effects such a journey has on all parties involved.
Mel quickly finds that his birth mother lives in San Diego, where he travels the next day to meet her. One small problem, though: She’s not his mother. She’s just got the same name, making for the next riotous scene in the film.
After clearing up the mess caused by this mistake, Tina finds that Mel’s birth father lives in Michigan. Upon arriving at his home, the threesome is greeted rudely. “Dad” and a friend attack them until he realizes he just beat up his son. Not quite, however. Another mistake.
The “real” parents - this time for real - live in New Mexico.
The birth parents seem perfectly normal, for a while. These parents, played by Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda, are friendly and work in the arts. It would be a sin to give away the rest of the story, but it includes two of the funniest scenes I have ever watched in a movie theater.
The acting is great all around. No one fails to capitalize on one bit of the quirky humor in the film, and even though the story moves at a hundred miles an hour, the audience isn’t left behind. “Flirting With Disaster” easily could have seemed like a big inside joke we weren’t let in on, but it never ends up that way.
It goes without saying that the screenplay is phenomenal. Written by director David O. Russell, it doesn’t miss a single opportunity at irony or humor.
I doubt everyone will be quite as emphatic about the humor in “Flirting With Disaster” as I am, but I have a hard time imagining someone going to see it and being disappointed.
After all, when one puts Ben Stiller, Mary Tyler Moore and Alan Alda in the same film, it can satisfy very diverse tastes.