David O. Russell Throwback Week, Post #2: Flirting With Disaster (1996)


Yeah, don’t screw with LSD. That stuff’ll kill ya.

Ben Stiller is Mel Coplin, a guy who has been raised by an adoptive couple who also happen to be disturbingly funny thanks to the odd charms Russell bestows on them. Mel goes in search of his real parents with his wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) and their son. The trip turns out to be a generous helping of everything they never asked for.

It is so refreshing to see that Russell’s cinema simultaneously reflects positively as well as negatively on family. Screwball comedy cast aside, his thematic treatment of neurosis and compulsive disorders running in a family is at its prime here. No wonder he was fascinated by it and made his 2012 film Silver Linings Playbook maneuver centrally around mental and psychological shortcomings.


Tina (Téa Leoni), Tony (Josh Brolin) and Paul (Richard Jenkins) join in on the trip; the latter two of the three are basically unneeded. Tony is bisexual and is in a homosexual relationship with Paul. Meanwhile Tina develops a thing for Mel, and there is something about Nancy that attracts Tony. Standard comic tropes ‒ confusion, crisis. other people being sexier than your spouse ‒ they are all there. It is the film’s unmerciful honesty about the fissures in the morality of its characters that makes it so captivating even after all these years. Russell sure knows his way around muddy patches of low morale that plague the flawed beings in his stories.


In the scene shown by the snapshot above, Mel’s real parents played by Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin, while constantly showing off their gleefully peculiar traits, discover that their (other) son has drugged Paul. Paul starts tripping his head off, and the four adults, or “illicit couples” as he puts it, are upstairs having a semi-midlife crisis without a clue of what’s going on downstairs. Mel’s adoptive parents arrive unexpectedly, and we are left to laugh our asses off to a post-modern enactment of a typical third act from an Oscar Wilde play.

PS: Notice how Russell’s films inevitably have an immaculately picked-out soundtrack?


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