April 10, 2013

Flirting With Disaster

David O. Russell, 1996


          Neurotic Mel Coplin (Ben Stiller) welcomes a baby into the world with his beautiful wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette), but while deciding what to name the baby, struggles with the fact that he has never met his biological parents due to the fact that he was adopted as a baby.
          I like David O. Russell's films. He taps into a psychological component that I identify with. I don't know if it's the awkward confrontations, the abrupt chaos or the quirky humor. This film possesses those qualities but also shines with a sometimes reckless skill-set that Russell clearly refined as his career progressed.
          A heavily loaded cast fuels this film. Stiller is effective as the introspective, non-threatening intellectual guy. His overt 90's attire is at times distracting, but he fits into his character really well. Seeing Patricia Arquette in this film really makes me want more Patricia Arquette. Where has she been? Shes so beautiful, her acting ability is so natural. She's clearly the most talented out of her family. Is that even up for debate? I didn't realize until now that she kind of reminds me of Kristen Stewart. Tea Leoni delivers the best performance I've seen from her. While her character had her flaws, she provided a sense of vulnerability and impulse that was delivered effectively. Richard Dawkins and Josh Brolin also provide great performances, which is expected from those two, but its definitely in a different light than you are used to.
          Act 1 had me feeling had me lingering on liking/disliking this film, but it wasn't until Act 3 that I was captivated and convinced. Act 3 settled into a rhythm that reminded me of Raising Arizona. It possesses the same intellect and comedy but it lacks in warmth and organization. Flirting has its flaws, and most of them are evident in the first act. There are elements that are certainly far-fetched such as Mary Tyler Moore's cartoonish overacting early on, or the unrealistic car swap later in the film. The early scene with the van on the highway was unfunny and unnecessary. But to the film's credit, there is a snowball effect. You are served with bits of smart writing early on, but it's not until the climax that you indulge in a lunatic coagulation of chaos at a dinner table in New Mexico. Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda talent is immediately evident and they take you on a journey. The third act of Flirting is so smart and so well-crafted that it redeems itself and you overlook some of the deficiencies that are in the first half of the film. Flirting with Disaster feels dated, but its interesting to see Russell's early work and some of the familiar elements that appear in his later films.

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