Not an especially promising title, but if ever a film was designed to tighten the independent film-maker's grip on Hollywood's robust gonads, it's David O Russell's latest. The writer/director has chosen to follow his incest-is-funny Sundance Film Festival favourite Spanking The Monkey with a movie that nods its head in the general direction of populist comedy while retaining the raw, uncompromising edge associated with indie fare.
Flirting With Disaster is a slice-of-life comedy of errors in which Reality Bites/ Cable Guy director Ben Stiller steps in front of the lens to play neurotic 90s guy Mel Coplin. Life should be sweet for this thirty-something, who has a passionate and eager-to-please wife (Arquette) and a new baby son. Yet Mel finds himself wallowing in a deep pool of neurosis; his only chance to surface for air will come once he's found his biological parents.
With little known about his real folks, Mel enlists the talents of adoption agency psychologist Tina Kalb (Leoni), who exchanges vital information in return for the chance to accompany Mel and videotape the fruits of his family-foresting for her research. So it's with doubting wife, bouncing baby and supersexy psychologist that Mel sets out on his journey of discovery, a journey which seems destined to fail at every turn (with the usual increasingly "hilarious consequences").
Yes, it could so easily have been unwatchable. But, packed to the roof with genuinely chucklesome humour, Flirting With Disaster manages to keep you laughing for at least two-thirds of its running time. While it's Russell's script that has the wit, the ensemble cast must be applauded for their comedic talents. In fact, this is a film that boasts many worthy performances, and special honours must go to Mel's two sets of parents - George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore as the adoptive variety and Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda as the Bohemian biological ones. Russell can be more than happy with his second feature and, if you manage to catch it, you will be too.
Smart dialogue and some top acting talent combine in an accomplished comedy that deserves a good, long look. Oh, a word of advice: stick around for the end credits.