Todd Berger's first major film, It's A Disaster, is a comedically grim farce that shows how, even in a crisis situation, the predilection toward selfishness is often liable to prevail. Set in the already apocalyptic city of Los Angeles, the film opens with Tracy Scott (Julia Stiles) and Glen Randolph (David Cross) sitting in a PT Cruiser (a highly symbolic vehicle considering its visual similarity to a hearse) as Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" plays on the radio. When Glen abruptly turns the car off, Tracy has something of a freak out, asking Glen if not finishing a song leaves him "psychologically unfulfilled." It is on this note that they enter the couples brunch held by Emma (Erinn Hayes) and Pete Mandrake (Blaise Miller). The couple, married for eight years, has also invited the other regulars, Hedy (America Ferrera) and Shane (Jeff Grace), Lexi (Rachel Boston) and Buck Kivel (Kevin M. Brennan)--also married for eight years-- and notoriously late arrivers Jenny (Laura Adkin) and Gordon Alexander (Rob McGillivray).
Although Tracy has tried her best to educate Glen on how to act and what not to say (especially when it comes to mentioning that Hedy and Shane aren't married), he manages to instantly offend Lexi by referring to her as "the vegan." Glen is also familiarly approached by Pete, who poses the question, "If you had to call someone up with bad news, would you get right to the point or would you try to make small talk first?" Glen supposes that getting straight to the point would be the best method, not knowing that Pete is alluding to telling everyone at the brunch that he and Emma are getting divorced. Our introduction to Hedy portrays her as a composed, reserved type--if not latently high-strung. Her position as a chemistry teacher at an impoverished high school prompts her to share something of a rapport with Glen, who also teaches, though the subject he's teaching to his fourth graders is somewhat nebulous.
Hedy's fiancé, Shane, is a clueless, self-involved intellectual, whose entire focus at the start of the brunch is to win a rare comic book from an internet auction. The first telltale sign of the escalating disaster is the fact that Shane can't seem to get a signal on his phone, an issue plaguing everyone else at the brunch as well. The bubbling tensions of Emma's affair with Buck and the desire to tell everyone the truth about her marriage seems to put a haze of oblivion over the entire group. Even when Pete, Buck, Shane and Glen are in the living room trying to watch Sunday football and the TV won't turn on, the realization that something might be wrong still doesn't set in. Pete merely assumes that Emma is responsible for not paying the power bill as a petty way to retaliate against him for their divorce. When Pete confronts her about it, their secret unravels in front of the rest of the group. Emma storms upstairs after announcing that she's leaving. After Pete follows her upstairs to try to talk to her, she continues packing her suitcase and goes back downstairs. When she opens the door, she gasps at the sight of their next door neighbor, Hal (Todd Berger, in a directorial cameo that Alfred Hitchcock might think was too overt), standing outside with a Hazmat suit on.
The inherent knowledge that the characters have of the term "hazmat suit" is as surprising to the audience as the characters' sudden revelation that a cataclysmic event has occurred without their awareness. Hal states that he just stopped by to see if they had any D batteries for his emergency flashlight, leaving them spitefully behind to enjoy the remainder of their couples brunch that he wasn't invited to. Frantically searching for some source of information, the members of the group set off on their own separate missions for survival, while Hedy sits on the staircase in resigned shock. Out of everyone, Lexi is the calmest, assuring Glen that none of this is real and it's probably just another piece of misinformation created by mass media.
In spite of the news of their imminent demise, all Buck can seem to think about is that Emma wasn't technically cheating on Pete during the time when he was having his tryst with her--somehow making their affair seem far less illicit. Emma, on the other hand, can't believe she ever deigned to sleep with someone who thinks duct tape is pronounced "duck tape." As Tracy continues trying to console Hedy, Lexi is able to unearth a radio that she remembers singing to while she was taking a shower. This immediately raises the question in Emma's mind, "When was this bitch taking a shower here?" Thus, the secret of Lexi and Pete's affair is revealed, leading to even more drama as the announcer on the radio says that all major cities have been infected with a lethal gas called VX. From downstairs, Hedy can hear everything that's going on and interrupts by asking if she can have some of Pete's scotch.
As a well-educated chemist, Hedy is the only one cognizant of what the implications of VX mean. This incites her to eat all the food she wouldn't normally eat, drink heavily and start making "a poor man's ecstasy" out of the drugs in Emma and Pete's medicine cabinet. The diverse reactions to the disaster is one of the key themes of the film, highlighting how different people are when it comes to what they put a value on in their life. For Tracy, it was all the things she never experienced, while for Hedy it's the fact that she wasted so much time being engaged to Shane. So, in a way, what it all comes down to is how one's time is used: Generally speaking, it is wasted doing things we tend to hate.
As Berger's final scene in It's A Disaster builds to a hilarious cliffhanger, it becomes clear that the grand meaning of life--even at the end of it all--still somehow boils down to basing your actions on the actions of others. The traditional disaster film (à la Michael Bay) is turned on its ear by It's A Disaster, which manages to eloquently and humorously examine people's neuroses in the face of an apocalypse without the budget required to create explosions and scenes of destruction. The only scene of destruction needed is right as the credits roll at the beginning of the film, with a close-up of a picturesque beach that gradually zooms out to reveal a giant mushroom cloud. And it is this image that establishes the very tongue in cheek nature of Berger's incisive movie.