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Thursday, March 31, 2016
by Douglas Messerli
David O. Russell (writer and director) Flirting with Disaster / 1996
She too is a kind a monster, a political conservative (a drawing of Ronald Reagan graces her living room wall) and collector of kitschy glass objects who speaks in a heavily Southern accent about her (and apparently Mel’s) Confederate forbearers. Before Kalb discovers she has made an error in identifying this woman as Mel’s mother, Mel has already crashed into (don’t ask how!) Swaney’s glass-filled cabinet, destroying her beloved art objects, and has further miffed his increasingly irritable wife.
Remaking contact with the adoption agency, Kalb now suggests that she has now found Mel’s birth father, living near Battle Creek, Michigan. The truck-driving Fritz Boudreau is a violent man who, upon meeting the travelers, first attempts to run them off his property before attempting to take them on a ride in his semi-trailer. When he offers to show Mel how to drive, Nancy becomes determined to take their baby out of danger, refusing to join him on the trip. Admitting that he works as an entomologist, Mel soon discovers that Boudreau is not his father, only the man who took him to the adoption agency. Only a few moments later, Mel crashes the truck into a small-town post office (don’t ask how!).
Richard and Mary Schlichting (Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin), although friendly and obviously open-hearted, live in a large, rural, all-American house; yet they turn out to be even more monstrous that all the others Nancy and Mel have met. By the time they’ve finished dinner, his “parents” have admitted to having given up Mel because of their imprisonment for running a LSD lab in San Francisco, and their younger son, Lonnie (Glenn Fitzgerald) has served up a plate of LSD-laced quail to the elder of the agents (don’t ask how!). Horrified by the goings-on, Mel retreats to his bedroom where he discovers his wife being licked under her arm by Tony!
When in the midst of his hallucinations, Paul sobers up just enough to announce that he is an AFT administration detective, Lonnie hits him over the head with a frying pan, as the trio, scooping up their drug paraphernalia rush off to Mexico to escape imprisonment.
Don’t worry: all ends well! Mel and Nancy find a name for their son, Garcia (as in the singer Jerry Garcia), and patch up their relationship; Mel is only too happy to embrace the parents who raised him; and Paul, having survived his out-of-body experiences, is a changed man, ready to settle down to fatherhood with Tony. The last scene reveals the Schlictlings safely ensconced in Mexico, blissfully drugged out and having joyful sex, upon which Lonnie intrudes in his search for pot; the couple, hardly missing a beat, insist he “get his own.
Despite its total cartoon-like reality, Russell’s work is often genuinely funny—even if the film’s underlying vision of family life is definitely American gothic.
Los Angeles, March 30, 2016