Flirting with Disaster

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Flirting with Disaster Movie Poster Image
Dark comedy about family includes some sexy stuff and drugs.
  • R
  • 2004
  • 92 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Family is more about who you choose to be with instead of where you come from. Plus, it takes work to maintain a marriage and it's important not to neglect your spouse. There's a comical approach to drugs embedded in the movie.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The couple at the heart of this dark comedy both find themselves tempted by others, mainly because they take each other for granted and feel neglected, but belatedly realize they love each other. Mel in particular becomes more caring and less self-centered on the journey.


Two men threaten a couple who they suspect are trespassing. A drugged-out man gets conked on the head with a frying pan after he pulls a gun on a trio of drug dealers.


Several frank discussions about sex, oral sex, gay sex, circumcision, and fidelity. A woman prepares for a sex-date with her husband and oral sex is implied. Her husband later flirts with, and kisses, another woman, while the wife become entangled with an old friend who is not as gay as he claims to be.


Occasional swearing, including "s--t," "ass," "bitch," and "f--k."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some characters smoke cigarettes and drink socially. Two people make their living producing and selling LSD, and one character accidentally gets a large dose and spends a long, humorous night tripping.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this dark comedy about family relationships includes frank discussions of sex -- oral sex, gay sex, circumcision, and more. Actual sex is more implied than seen, though there is some kissing and groping, including between two men. Expect some smoking and a humorous portrayal of an LSD-induced trip. Adults swear occasionally ("s--t," "f--k," "ass").

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What's the story?

Mel (Ben Stiller) is so hung up about being adopted that he can't adjust to being a father, or even give his infant son a name, and his wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) is running out of patience. The new parents and the baby set off on a cross-country journey of discovery to track down Mel's biological parents, accompanied by a case worker from the adoption agency (Tea Leoni). Along the way they pick up an old friend of Nancy's and his boyfriend who are also federal agents. All of these factors come together to create one zany mishap after another when the gang finally, after several missteps, winds up at the door of Mel's real mother and father, a pair of aging hippie artists.

Is it any good?

FLIRTING WITH DISASTER is madcap, wacky, and very funny. The characters come close to the line of caricature but don't step over it, and the supporting cast, including Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda as Mel's birth parents, and Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal as his adoptive ones, is outstanding. Everyone here feels like a real person who happens to end up in a series of very weird and very entertaining situations, including: a truck collision involving a pair of anti-Semites, an Indian-wrestling incident in the home of a Ronald Reagan supporter who (briefly) is convinced she's Mel's mom, a lover's spat between two men who aren't sure they want to be parents together, a series of potential extra-marital encounters that seem triggered more by ennui than attraction, and an unexpected LSD trip.

After all the shenanigans, what we are left with is simply this: making your own family, and keeping it together, is more important than any link that is just genetics. That, and pay attention to what you eat when the chef is also a slightly unhinged drug manufacturer with sibling rivalry issues.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Mel and Nancy's marriage. Why do you think they both find themselves tempted by others? What is the movie's message about family and coupledom?

  • How is drug-use portrayed in this movie?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love comedy

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