Wednesday, June 26, 2013

This is the End (***)

Written and Directed by Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen


This is the End seems like the epitome of comedic success. You make enough hit movie comedies and you too can be given $32 million to make a movie with all of your friends, not even give them character names - don't even write much of a script, really, just improvise! - and ponder the destruction of the universe while going as far and over the top with dick and fart jokes as you possibly can. It all seems very..... ponderous. But much to my surprise, the film is actually much more of a structured story then its production process would allow you to believe, and while this group of actors would seem to be giving themselves a reason to hang out with each other for thirty days, they all bring their comedic A-game cumulating in one of the funniest movies of the year.

One thing that becomes obvious pretty early is how giddy these actors are to make fun of themselves, and the versions of themselves that they play in the movie are super vain, crazy self-conscious, ultra-Hollywood concoctions about what filmgoers perceive them to be. When Seth Rogen picks Jay Baruchel up at the airport in the movie's first scene, he's immediately met by a camera-toting paparazzi asking him "So you, like, play the same character over and over. When are you gonna really act?" I can only imagine that this is a straw man criticism that Rogen has nightmares about (is anyone really concerning themselves about Rogen's chops?), but the film's ability to flip these moments for laughs is uncanny. The self-referential nature allows the film to dodge any criticisms that one can make because it's willing to make them first, and does it in a way that will be much funnier than anything you can come up with.

The story focuses on Seth and Jay, formerly best friends, now slightly estranged by Seth's big Hollywood success and his new group of famous friends. Seth convinces Jay to join him and go to a party at James Franco's new house on the Hollywood hills. Jay would much rather sit in Seth's house, playing video games and smoking weed. But Seth breaks him down, and they head to Franco's home which is ripe with a smorgasbord of celebrities including Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and a coked-out, hyper-sexual Michael Cera. Jay is immediately turned off by the entire charade, divided by his marginal fame compared to other party goers like Jason Segal and Rihanna. He leaves begrudgingly to buy some cigarettes, followed by Seth and they begin disputing their friendship - but they're interrupted when the Apocalypse begins inside the convenient store.

Various people get sucked up into the sky via blue beams of light, cars begin crashing into each other, and giant holes form in the ground sucking people into fire and brimstone. Seth and Jay are able to get back to Franco's house, just before the events start effecting the party. They all run out onto the lawn to see the Hollywood Hills burning down. Michael Cera is impaled by a streetlight, Rihanna and Mindy Kaling are sucked into one of the brimstone holes. The only ones left are Seth, Jonah, Jay, Craig Robinson and James Franco, who board themselves into Franco's home and create an inventory of all food and drinks that they have. They figure that being famous actors will make them priority for rescue, but their plans become more and more dyer as Jay finally convinces them that the Rapture is coming and the Apocalypse is upon them.

This is the End is a film built on the template of constantly upping the ante on the outrageous nature of dirty comedy. This reaches its best moments when Danny McBride arrives. Having secretly crashed the party and passed out in the bathroom, Danny awakens the next day totally oblivious to situation. McBride, a comedy mastermind with the ability to shock audiences with his loud, transgressive brand of humor, takes the reigns as soon as he enters the film and dictates the comedic flow almost every second that he's on the screen. And the film uses him brilliantly, placing him and replacing him exactly when the film needs him to be re-energized comedically. This entire ensemble performs exceptionally, no doubt their familiarity with each other giving them the advantage of chemistry, but it's McBride who is the clear comedy MVP.

Like most films spanning from this Apatow group, the film is mostly an ol' boys club, leaving almost no room for any kind of female character - with a rather large exception to Emma Watson who returns to Franco's home, only to feel threatened and rob the men of half their drinks. Watson's glorified cameo is funny, but only reinforces the film's total lack of femininity, if anything the jokes are made at the expense of the male group's masculinity. These comedic actors have always played with the idea of being obsessed with their own penises, and equally terrified of anyone else's. It's the kind of comedy that plays really well for one demographic (American males, ages 18-25; which I fall into), but could very easily rub others the wrong way. The film pushes these subjects so far that it's easy to understand why a whole portion of the population might be turned off.

You can spend a lot of time talking about what This is the End isn't, but I still think it's one of the funniest movies I've seen in a while (not since 2008's Tropic Thunder have I laughed so hard in a theater). If there's any underlying thesis that these guys were trying to put across, it seems to be this: Jay Baruchel is pretty awesome and he should be just as famous as us. It's a noble quest, since Baruchel is a great comedic actor, and he's the character the screenplay is structurally built around. The screenplay was written by Rogen and his partner Evan Goldberg, who also directed. If there's anything particularly enjoyable about their films, it's that they are always built around a strong screenplay foundation, despite their reliance on improvisation. This is the End is no different.

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