Flirting with Disaster is a mid-90’s comedy staring tons of people from Alan Alda to Patricia Arquette to Lily Tomlin and Mary Tyler Moore. It’s also the last truly independent style flick David O. Russell did before switching to bigger pictures like Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees. Flirting tells the story of the disastrous roadtrip Mel (played by Ben Stiller) takes to find his biological parents. He brings his wife and new baby, but also brings along a psychiatrist from the adoption agency who is willing to pay for it all if she can document it for a study she’s doing for her PhD. Along the way the meet several people who turn out not to actually be Mel’s parents, meet a couple of ATF agents who ask to come along for the ride and are intercepted by Mel’s incredibly tight strung New Yorker adoptive parents.
The whole thing feels like one of those Euro flicks where everything goes wrong at every turn and the humor is found both in the characters and in the mayhem. It’s wackiness at every turn, in other words, and, as my wife put it, felt like a stepping-stone on Ben Stiller’s path to later similarly themed movies like Night at the Museum and Meet the Parents. While the style of comedy may be the same, the themes in Flirting are much more adult and, in my opinion, a little less ha-ha funny. This movie may not be great and, well, it’s not really my kind of comedy, but the performances are really fantastic and they make it very enjoyable to watch. That is, except for Stiller and Tea Leone (the psychiatrist) who are simply unbelievable and ridiculous. In fact, their whole storyline is ridiculous and not believable.
The seemingly bit players make this movie great. Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin are pitch perfect as a couple of acid-dealing artists. Mary Tyler Moore has never been better. Josh Brolin is great as the overly maternal ATF agent. But, to me, Richard Jenkins tops them all. He’s hilarious. He’s very uptight, but has an ‘epiphany’ part way through the movie when he inadvertently takes acid. His epiphany follows several scenes of hilarious freaking out. Imagine him panicking because he’s “seeing colors I don’t want to see.” Or him running around New Mexico in his underwear because he’s trying to “outchase the wind.” It’s great stuff. Long story short, if you like character movies with solid actors who are all reveling in being on a snowball rolling out of control, then this is your movie.