Flirting With Disaster * * * 1/2

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Director: David O. Russell.
Screenplay: David O. Russell.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Tea Leoni, Richard Jenkins, Josh Brolin, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Celia Watson, David Patrick Kelly.

Director David O. Russell has certainly got a quirky style and this being only his second film, you can see where he honed those quirky talents of his.

Mel and Nancy Coplin (Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette) are a married couple who have started a young family. The problem is though, having been adopted from an early age, Mel has some unanswered questions about his past and his real parents. As a result, he can’t give his 4 month old baby a name until he has tracked down his biological parents and get a better idea of where he comes from. This then has him, his wife and his adoption case worker (Tea Leoni) travelling across America in search of answers and finding themselves in all sorts of wacky company and ludicrous situations.

There is lots to be enjoyed here in this situational comedy about a dysfunctional family with equally dysfunctional friends, striving to just live their lives in the way they see fit. It’s just that with everybody striving for different things, there are bound to be clashes and it’s these clashes that provide the backbone to this farsical comedy. There is plenty of sharply written dialogue from well written individual characters, played by an excellent ensemble of actors. This is one of Stiller’s earlier goffball roles and you can see why he has now been typecast. Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda are a treat as Mel’s birth parents who haven’t really left the sixties and still retain their tantric, hallucinogenic approach to the world but the real star of the show is the wonderfully talented and underrated Richard Jenkins as a homosexual policeman, who unwittingly consumes some LSD in his evening meal.

A hugely talented cast and it also shows the directors early promise but the jokes feel a little forced at times and the film starts to sag around the midway point. However, when Jenkins turns up he safely carries the film home. It’s worth it just for him.

Mark Walker

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