Flirting with Disaster (1996) Poster

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pewterring13 April 2004
This is one of the few movies I find seriously funny. Stiller, Leoni, Moore, everyone does a killer job, and humor emerges from a variety of silly-crazy and intellectual sources, so you can respect yourself when you laugh. Human neuroses give rise to a lot of sympathetic laughter. Most of it is human frailty and absurdity. Tea Leoni is hilarious, and does a great job of getting on your nerves, and trying to get into Stiller's pants behind his wife's back while still being completely neurotic and self-absorbed. Her psycho-babble is highly effective. Stiller plays the usual awkward introspective man who lacks self confidence. His parents are magnificent, and so are his 'real' parents. I loved it. highly recommended. What else are you going to watch?
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jotix10012 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
One of the most intriguing thoughts about anyone that has been adopted, and knowing about it, is trying to imagine what the real parents are like. Since much of the search will not happen until the adopted children reach a certain age nothing prepare them to accept the reality of how they came into this world and what motivated those parents to give them up in the first place.

Such is the dilemma that Mel Coplin faces. He has been adopted by a Jewish couple, Ed and Pearl, who have done well in bringing him up; Mel is a well adjusted man. After his own son is born, he decides to track down his natural parents. With the help of a young woman of the adoption agency, Tina, he and his wife, Nancy, embark in a trip to find the parents he never knew.

What seemed to be an easy task, Mel who is traveling with Nancy and the baby, plus Tina, turns out to be a complicated journey as the agency has botched the adoption papers and this quartet has to go through two sets of possible parents without any luck. When they finally get to the real parents, Mel is probably thinking if trying to meet his real family was worth all the trouble.

"Flirting with Disaster" is at times a road movie because of the many turns the story takes Mel and his own family. David O. Russell directed the film with great sense of style as he takes us along. Ben Stiller, who still had not made a splash in the movies, is impressive as the likable Mel, who gets much more than what he bargained for. Tea Leoni who is seen as Nancy, made a terrific impression on us when we saw the film originally. She proves here why she was destined for bigger and better things. Her inter action with Ben Stiller is the best thing in the film.

The rest of the cast is excellent. Mary Tyler Moore's Pearl Coplin is one of the best things she has done in her career. She makes this woman real. George Segal, a great comedy actor with great timing, appears as Ed Coplin. Patricia Arquette, who is Nancy, doesn't have much to do because she plays Nancy, the most grounded person in the film. Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin are the real parents, who are former hippies from New Mexico and in spite of being older, they still are young at heart doing the same things they did when they were younger.

"Flirting with Disaster" owes a lot to David O. Russell who also wrote the screen play and is a natural for this type of comedy.
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GLPman15 June 2004
This movie is truly a masterpiece. The plot, the acting, the scenery...everything!

It is about Mel Coplin (Stiller) who is puzzled who he really is a couple months after his baby is born. He becomes addicted to the fact that he indeed doesn't know who he is. Finally, he receives information of where his birth mother is. He gets on a plane with his wife, Nancy (Patricia Arquette), and the adoption agency associate that he is working with, Tina (Téa Leoni). Together they all fly to San Diego only to discover that there has been some terrible mistake--this woman in San Diego is not his birth mother.

Well, I won't ruin the rest of this hilarious and ongoing plot for you. I guarantee that you will laugh sometime in this movie...whether it is at the little old lady in the bed and breakfast, or when Tina maces the church workman in San Diego.
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Funniest Movie. Period.
Spuzzlightyear19 June 2005
I'm under the impression that 'Flirting With Disaster' JUST isn't getting the respect it totally deserves. No special DVD or anything, it just sits there, waiting to be discovered. I saw this when it first hit the theater, and I have it on VHS (yeah yeah I know, I'm just waiting for the special edition DVD to come out!). I love the plot of this one. Ben Stiller travels with his perfectly cast wife, Patricia Arquette and the adoption agency agent, played by Tia Leoni to try to discover his parents who gave him up for adoption. He needs to have a sense of closure, and also to give a name to his son. He probably didn't realize that this would involve Indian wrestling, truck driving lessons, or a married male couple of FBI agents. The story just piles one hilarious situation after another. I've seen this film at LEAST 10 times and I STILL laugh out loud. It's just THAT funny!
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A man stumbles and bumbles his way to his zany biological parents...screwball almost!
secondtake18 March 2013
Flirting with Disaster (1996)

This is one of those movies that's just plain stupid in such a funny way you'll likely laugh out loud a lot. And you'll finish thinking it's a pretty stupid movie. The ending in particular makes you wonder what all the build up was about since it diffuses, as if the writers ran out of conflicts (or solutions) and raised their hands in surrender.

But on the way there is one funny gag after another. And a whole slew of excellent actors doing their zany best. Some of them have very brief (and contained) appearances, for sure--Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda, for example, in a hilarious section of the movie with little connection to the rest of it. In fact, the whole movie is broken into spasmodic sections, held together mostly by the three leading leads (there are lots of main characters): Ben Stiller (looking for his biological parents), Patricia Arquette (his suffering, sweet wife), and Tea Leoni (the mentally incomplete but skinny and sexy interloper).

Stiller isn't actually totally funny by himself, but acts like more of a foil for all the crazy things happening around him (this is his style on purpose, a kind of regular guy in an irregular world). Arquette is almost too normal for this abnormal world, but that's fine, she's likable, and is meant to be the loving wife who doesn't quite know how zany the events around her are. At first. Leoni has a terrific way of making nutty faces and being just slightly insane without being just stupid (the way Will Ferrell is just stupid in a different kind of humor).

There are gay jokes and jokes about LSD and a general playing of an ultra-licentious world against what seems to be a normal human desire to connect with your genetic parents, unknown to you. The mistakes along the way are what make it hilarious. Until the end, where it maybe is trying to say, "Oh well, everything is okay in a world where anything goes." Sure. Pop the big bubble, but on the way it's a gas. No pun intended.
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Outstanding black comedy; one of Stiller's best
george.schmidt13 March 2003
FLIRTING WITH DISASTER (1996) **** Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Tea Leoni, Alan Alda, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Lily Tomlin, Richard Jenkins, Josh Brolin. Hilarious and wickedly sharp satire about a young man (Stiller in a memorable turn) searching for his identity by trying to locate his biological parents while alienating his neglected and lovely wife (the yummy Arquette) and Leoni (simply wonderful) as his adoption broker. Fine ensemble cast (especially Moore in an inconoclastic poke at her image) and Alda (ditto). Subversive good, clean fun and seriously dysfunctional family values (thank God!) from filmmaker David O. Russell beating the Sophomore Jinx (in this his second turn at the helm).
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Howard Hawks on acid!
David O. Russell's 1996 flick "Flirting with Disaster" might not leave the audience feeling dirty afterward like his prior work "Spanking the Monkey", but what it lacks in controversy it makes up for in over the top wackiness. This is modern-day dark edged screwball comedy that would like make master filmmaker Howard Hawks ("His Girl Friday", "Bringing Up Baby") proud.

Russell's film weaves the ludicrous story of a thirty year old, first time father who can't overcome the challenges of not knowing his birth parents enough to see his wife's sexual advances or even give his kid a name. Who else could we expect to see in a role so heavily stacked with Murphy's Law possibilities than that consummate lovable loser Ben Stiller? Before we know it he, his wife, and an incompetent adoption case worker set out to meet his birth parents.

What follows is the full range of comedic possibilities from the standard road trip to off-the-wall characterizations, mistaken identity, love triangles, attempted murder, and armpit fetishism. Somehow it all flows so brilliantly that all of the craziness becomes quite plausible in what turns out to be a film that is a bit charming and damn funny.
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Idocamstuf7 August 2003
Comedies like this are a real rarerity, especially nowadays. You almost never see a movie thats this intelligent and funny. Ben Stiller is hilarious as the man who is traveling around the US to find his biological parents. Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda are hilarious as well as his biological parents. This is definately a must see comedy, and I very rarely give comedies good reviews. ***1/2 out of ****.
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Disaster it is....
drake-292 January 2001
Not funny. I understand that the directors last movie was excellent. Not to self - save the good script for seconds.

Is it a comedy? Is it a road movie? What are all these familiar actors in the movie - didn't they read the script.

It reminds me of those early 80's 'comedies' from the Saturday Nite crew which look so dated now.

Read a book - watch some sport. (Actually did it remind anyone else of a 'life less ordinary'?)
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Like a Woody Allen Road Flick.
rmax30482329 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Maybe called "Deconstructing Mel." Ben Stiller, his wife Patricia Arquette, and an adoption agency representative, Tea Leoni, go on the road in search of Stiller's "birth parents." Ben is nervous and mostly passive. His wife apologizes for having put on weight during her recent pregnancy. The statuesque Leoni and Stiller find themselves attracted to one another, although neither is ready for an affair.

The search takes them to San Diego where Stiller's mother turns out to be a materialistic nonentity with two radiantly healthy daughters, a big ranch house, a collection of glass zodiac figures, and no brains. It turns out to have been a mistake.

They next find themselves in Michigan where Stiller's father is an ex-Hell's Angel who now drives a truck and twits Stiller for looking Jewish. This is also a mistake.

Next stop, Antelope Wells, New Mexico, navel of the universe, where Stiller's parents are revealed to be a couple of aging hippies, Alda and Tomlin, with a lunatic son who is a selfish and jealous young man who doses the quail dinner and sends one of the visitors on an unwitting acid trip. Oh, the trio of investigators has picked up a male couple who are married. One of them is Arquette's ex-boyfriend and likes to lick her armpit.

Stiller's parents of orientation, a nice Jewish couple, show up unexpectedly, there is a mix up of vehicles, and Stiller's adoptive father, George Segal, gets caught by the police with his arms full of dope.

Despite all the travel, the movie doesn't really go anywhere in particular. Oddball is heaped upon oddball, gag upon gag. Stiller stutters a good deal, and there is a lot of overlapping nervous chatter, and people normalize all over the place -- Alda explains that after Stiller was born, he, Alda, and Tomlin spent some time in the slams but it was for nothing. Less important than a speeding ticket. It wasn't even illegal. Or it shouldn't have been. Everyone was making LSD in those days and "it's not addicting."

The question isn't really whether the movie assumes the morphology of a Woody Allen movie, but whether it gets its job done -- and it does. As far as that goes, the situational and conversational gags are funnier than many of those in Woody's recent movies. And if the movie lacks depth, well, that's okay. "Deconstructing Harry" didn't have much depth either, and neither did most of Charlie Chaplin.

If the style is a little irritating it's because we've seen it and heard it so often before. But the jokes are usually funny. The performers are up to the task and the pace never drags. The direction is well handled too. Example: Segal and Mary Tyler Moore discover that they are driving the wrong car, now immobilized on the highway, that it may not be theirs. "Look in the trunk and see if our baggage is there," says Moore. Segal rummages through the trunk hysterical with worry. No luggage. Just a lot of junk in bags and briefcases, which Segal tears open to find that his trunk is now loaded with illegal drugs. The cops come and catch him. But the director doesn't spell out the entire ordeal for us. Gradually, as Segal stares at the drug factory in his hands, and as he starts shouting at Moore, we see that blinking red lights are beginning to light up the scene and we hear a car pull to a stop off camera. (We see no car, no cops, and we hear no voices.) Segal, still holding the paraphernalia, turns towards the source of the red light wordlessly, with an idiotic smile. Dissolve. A less trusting director would have taken us through the entire encounter with the police, the two big brutes in intimidating uniforms and their baritone voices, Segal's and Moore's silly attempts at an explanation. But what we see, though truncated, is funnier because it prompts our imagination to fill in the rest of the scene.

Not badly done. Amusing, really.
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When A+ Actors Tackle an F- Script
bababear21 June 2012
Scanning the other reviews on here, I realize I'm totally in the minority here. But I thought this was a total stinker.

I kept watching, hoping that it would get better. But the more I watched, the more I thought the screenplay was the byproduct of watching too many Woody Allen movies.

The biggest problem was that I just couldn't believe what was going on before my eyes. Maybe I'm too much of a "meat and potatoes" mindset, but the characters and situations just got more and more unrealistic and I cared less and less about these people.

This is only the third David O. Russell film I've seen. SPANKING THE MONKEY was clever. After trying to watch it three times I finally gave up on I HEART HUCKABEES. After this, I've added him to my mental checklist of Film Makers to Avoid.

Hack though Mr. Russell may be, though, he couldn't get a bad performance out of Richard Jenkins.
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Tries too hard
ktappe14 June 2007
This movie is overwritten. The screenwriter(s) felt it necessary to relentlessly hit you with line after line after line after line, with no room for you mentally "breathe" and digest what everyone was saying and why they might be saying it. They also mistake characters saying obviously incorrect or obnoxious things as humor. In spite of this being a movie about a character seeking his real parents, there is surprisingly little real inspection of the characters' true natures and motivations. There's an age-old saying, "show me don't tell me", but this film does a lot of telling and disturbingly little showing. It's not horrible, so it still gets 4 stars out of 10, but it also has few redeeming qualities unless you consider amateur pratfalls and shallow insults to be humor.
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This Film IS A Disaster!
ccthemovieman-113 March 2007
Flirting With Disaster I should have put 2-and-2 together just by looking at this cast and realize it would be a modern-day Hollywood comedy, which means typically sleazy. Sometimes that sleaze can be funny enough to make it a "keeper," but not usually and certainly not in this case.

Combine the annoyingly "hip" 20-something characters played by Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, tea Leoni and mix in the totally stupid older people, Liberal icons like Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore, all of whom still are not out of their 1960s' mentalities) and enduring this for the full --- minutes is a real feat.

The only disasters here, besides the title are the cast and story.It did a lot more than just flirt with disaster.
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A disaster of a movie.
lee_eisenberg19 October 2005
What misbegotten madman got the idea that this droll-fest was funny?! Less of a movie than a newsreel on depressants, "Flirting with Disaster" could not have had a better title, as it wastes a perfectly good cast and a potentially hilarious plot on pure idiocy. The plot (if it was supposed to be a plot) has adopted child Mel Coplin (Ben Stiller) and his wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) searching for his biological parents. Accompanying them is floozy psychiatrist Tina Kalb (Tea Leoni), who makes more than a few moves on Mel.

Sound funny? Well guess what? It never is. Scenes that should have been uproarious end up making you feel like your face just melted, and you're lucky (or is that unlucky?) if you can stay awake until the end. Like I said, this hunk o' junk wastes not only the talents of the aforementioned stars, but also the talents of Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore; the only excuse that anyone could have for starring in this would be a financial strain. All in all, not only was this a poor excuse for a movie, but 1996 was truly a low point for the usually dependable Alan Alda - he also starred in the dreadfully horrible "Everyone Says I Love You", Woody Allen's worst movie ever.

As just an extra note, I might add a little something. People didn't like "The Cable Guy" (directed by Ben Stiller) because they thought that Jim Carrey was wrong for the role; I liked the movie's impending sense of doom. "Flirting with Disaster" essentially takes a good idea and stretches it out until it turns into a bunch of random strands that lead nowhere. So that's my assertion: Ben Stiller's good movie disappeared, while his bad movie was exalted. Shame on everyone.
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Doesn't Belong
tedg10 June 2005
I'm amazed at how much context matters when watching movies. I saw this when it was new and was impressed at how gently it moved. It wasn't frantic. It didn't rely on penis and excrement jokes. It mentions Jews comically but doesn't get mean. It deals with relationships straightforwardly: the humor from this end coming from our unease at natural misfits.

In short, it is everything that the "Fockers" movies aren't. I went back and watched it simply out of protest, out of feeling slimy from having to encounter them again.

And I was shocked that it seemed too slow until the third act. Part of the problem was that I knew where it was going, and much of the development depends on you having the same insecurity about the future as Stiller's character. But the larger part was simply that subtle, soft humor may be dead, even for someone like me who thrives on the slight brush.

Perhaps now "50 First Dates" is as soft as we can get these days.

I urge you to see this for a dive into gentle humor, even though it may be too faded. Screwball keeps. This stuff doesn't. It is a film that doesn't belong about a man who doesn't.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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A brilliant adult comedy
Cosima41110 August 2005
This movie is one of my all time favorites. It's sophisticated and Richard Jenkins is my favorite actor in the brilliant cast. I became aware of this actor after viewing this film and have followed his career ever since. It's dumbfounding to me that such versatile and highly accomplished actor is relegated to supporting roles while mediocre ones get first billing. "Disaster" is, IMO, brilliant, amusing and sophisticated a film that encompasses many societal taboos, such a gay marriage, a film designed to change the boring and trite landscape of formula comedies. The variety of characters depicted in the plot are highly entertaining and so is the dialog and the variety of personalities and life styles depicted.
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Really bad
mkat5 July 2000
I was attracted by the cast, and the story started out promisingly. However, that's where the good ends with this film. I checked this movie out of the public library (for free...) and I can unhesitatingly state that I was ripped off! Okay, that's probably a bit too harsh, but there's absolutely nothing above average about this film. All of the characters, with the exception of Arquette's, are ridiculous caricatures. This would normally be okay, except for the fact that the jokes are rarely funny. Alda and Tomlin briefly showed signs of rescuing the film (which is why I continued to watch) but they just aren't in the movie for a long enough time.

I admittedly have not watched anything else by this director and haven't seen everything by Woody Allen, but I felt that Flirting... should have included some kind of gushing "thank you" to Woody somewhere in the credits.

The types of characters and their accompanying lines were obviously inspired by Woody (but his are usually comedic). In sum, we have 90 minutes of several unlikeable, non-humorous, bozos running around the country.
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Why or why not is `Flirting with Disaster' a typical Hollywood movie?
cabaret_emcee3 September 2002
`Flirting with Disaster' is definitely a typical Hollywood movie in many aspects but not in all of them. It fits the form of classical cinema or classical paradigm in that the director, David O. Russell, does not get distracted from telling the story with filmmaking techniques. It is a clear and precise comedy that never leaves the characters in action, and is done so in a way that works unlike many other films of this genre released today. The film is structured narratively, with a clearly defined conflict from the very beginning. Ben Stiller shines in his performance as a neurotic new father who is trying desperately to find his biological parents in order to name his newborn son. At one point in the film the viewer begins to become anxious and wonder if the same problem for the protagonist, Stiller, is going to continue on in the same form as it has in the past half of the movie, but luckily Russell then changes the flow of the film and brings it to a much more comedic finish than the first half.

The photography is shot in full and long shots throughout most of the movie. Russell must have used deep-focus shots when filming because the surrounding background is clear around the characters, using a wide-angle or short lens. The characters are never off of the screen except for a few instances when we see a plane flying or a car driving and then we have voice-overs. The dialogue is always continuous- there is never a break in the script which works well because the screenplay is well written and clever on its insights on the little inconveniences of everyday life. Although all of these events are too unbelievable too happen all at once, they are all real life comedic situations that could happen to anyone. When compiled together with this plot line, we have this film before us.

Although this is a typical movie in the sense that it does not break any barriers or do anything creatively in its techniques in telling the story, the plot and screenplay do enough justice in making the film entertaining for the audience and one of those films you can just sit down, relax, and have fun viewing because it makes sense and fits together. This aspect is not like many Hollywood films released today, with their gaping holes that leave the viewer feeling unfulfilled. Altogether this was a good film, even though it did fit many of the typical Hollywood stereotypes.
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No Flirting, Just Disaster!
Korch31 January 2004
This movie is a disaster. I normally enjoy Ben Stiller movies. Even if the movie isn't so great, I still find Ben very funny (such as his role in "Heavyweights"). This movie had a great cast, but seemed to do nothing with it. Instead I was treated to repulsive scenes of Patricia Arquette performing felattio on Ben Stiller while he had a baby in his arms. I also will never be able to get the horrific images of Mary Tyler Moore going down on George Segal, and Alan Alda and Lilly Tomlin engaging in tantric sex, while their son enters the room looking to borrow some of their "weed". Do yourself a favor, and avoid this movie at all costs. You'll thank me.
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The absolute worst movie I have ever seen
Foxbarking17 February 2013
I know that this movie has been lauded by many people. I also know that it annoys me how everyone has to start a "Worst movie ever" thread on the IMDb message boards for every movie. These are both pet peeves of mine. However I must say that no movie in my entire life has been as bad or as boring as "Flirting With Disaster."

This was actually the first movie with Ben Stiller I ever watched. I have tended to avoid his movies afterwards, with the sole gem of his entire career being "Mystery Men."

There was not one laugh in this film for me. The writing was cliché and boring. The characters are all despicable people who I never developed an iota of sympathy for. All this movie ends up being is a couple hours of my life which are among the most excruciating. Avoid it with a passion.
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extremely bad
moose3926 March 2001
This was not a good movie, and we are sorry that we accidentally grabbed it at the video store. There's no plot, no theme, and no ending. Do yourself a favour and rent something else! I like Ben Stiller, but he only seems to be able to portray neurotic characters which is becoming disappointing.
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A "David O Russell" film which shows that finding about one's real parents could be a real disaster.
FilmCriticLalitRao13 February 2015
It is no surprise that in many ways human beings reflect what their parents must have been. There is a biological perspective to it as this has a lot to do with the fact that children carry their parents' genes in them. However, there is no definitive yardstick for determining the behavioral traits of children as they might or might not have been influenced by their parents. All these ideas tend to give rise to an inherent desire to know more about one's parents especially 'one's biological parents'. This is a challenging as well as a serious theme which has been humorously represented on screen by American director David O Russell. For this reason, he takes us on a hilarious, fun filled ride across two different parts of America where a married couple meets up with other oddball characters. Apart from discussing issues related to bad parenting, 'Flirting with disaster' talks about a couple's conjugal life after the birth of a baby. Although most people would not like to be found in a position to generalize a work of art, this film remains a good example of American attitudes to drugs, marriage, relationships and sexuality. Hilarity is ensured as each character carries multiple flaws.
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Not flirting with disaster, filming it.
elom8 September 2001
This is a movie that never gets going. The plot is wafer thin, the performances are okay, the laughs are zero. I think the appeal of Ben Stiller must be a USA thing because his movies don't do very well here in Europe and on this evidence I'm not surprised.

Find something else to do with the time; walk the dog, play with the kids, examine your navel but don't watch this movie.
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Obnoxiously unfunny
J_Knox10 August 2000
Why is it that people think grating, annoying, OBNOXIOUS characters are funny ? It's hard to laugh when you just want someone, ANYONE to smack those people up the back of the head as hard as they can. The dialogue goes nowhere, the scenes go nowhere and all in all you feel like you wasted 2 hours of your life watching something that might have worked as a Saturday Night Live skit. Avoid at all costs. I'm the type of person that can always find something redeeming in a film and there is NONE to be found here.
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One of the greatest ever
slcagnina31 October 2008
I am amazed that this film is not in IMDb's top 250.

I rented this years ago, back when video was around, and it was the only film I ever rented where I rewound the tape and immediately watched the whole thing again.

Everything works. The cast is perfect, the writing is perfect. Most comedies are lucky to be funny -- Flirting works as an incisive story about a marriage going thru a tuff patch -- it could have been an excellent drama -- and as a screwball comedy. Is there another movie that does that? I can't think of one.

This is a modern classic. It's awesome. It's unique.

20 years from now, will anyone remember Forget Sarah Marshall? I liked that film, but 20 years from now, it'll be lucky to be a footnote.

Flirting will be remembered and watched. Trust me. Bringing up Baby wasn't a success upon release. But it's a classic that endures, and so will Flirting.

One day, it will be in that top 250. Time usually corrects.
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