This Is the End
(James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson; US theatrical: 12 Jun 2013 (General release); UK theatrical: 12 Jun 2013 (General release); 2013)
Back in the salad days of late night TV, talk show hosts would often bring on celebrities and then ask the kind of questions that, today, would end up in a snit or a self-important tirade. Trying to give off the vibe that everyone in Hollywood is and/or was buddy buddy with everyone else, they’d probe about famous friends, infer unfounded relationships and links, and basically fuel the meaningless myth that everyone in the industry hangs out with each other as BFFs. Enter This Is the End, a wildly inventive comedy that takes Armageddon and centers it within a surreal, sensational take on the whole Friends of Apatow dynamic. In a year which has seen several supposed laughers start up and sputter, this one delivers in rowdy, raucous spades.
Based on a short film entitled Seth and Jay vs. The Apocalypse, the movie uses dozens of well known comics and comic actors to create a kind of uber-meta mash-up that can only work when everyone is in on the joke. More or less playing “perceived” versions of themselves (which is the point, one imagines), we meet up with Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel. The latter has just arrived in LA and all he wants to do is eat greasy fast food, smoke weed, and hang out with his buddy. The former, on the other hand, wants to do that as well, right after they head over to James Franco’s house to party with his other pals.
Eventually, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, a coked out of his mind Michael Cera, and a bunch of familiar faces are hanging out, dissing their previous projects and planning future collaborations (Pineapple Express 2). When Seth and Jay head down the street to buy some cigarettes, something odd happens. It’s not long before the guys, along with Jonah, Craig, and party crasher Danny McBride, are forced to fend for themselves in a Los Angeles that seems to be on the brink of total disaster. Along the way, they are accosted by Emma Watson, have to figure out a way to share their dwindling food supply, and combat the unusual things happening all around them.
Like all other collaborations between Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg (who also directed, this time around), This Is the End is more than what it seems. Just like Superbad was more than a teen comedy and Pineapple Express was more than a stoner farce, this undeniably funny film is really an examination of fame and the audience’s preconceived notions over the particulars of personal celebrity—with a little bit of Revelations mixed it for added anarchy. Well made and constantly on target, Rogen and Goldberg want to take down the entire Brat Pack/Next Big Thing ideal and filter it through the standard array of dick and fart jokes. Yes, this is another example of how penises and poop become instant one liners, but because of the premise, and how it is presented, we don’t mind the descent into toilet humor. As a matter of fact, we relish it.
That’s because This Is the End seems to suggest that, as with their onscreen personas, Rogen et. al. are also individually obsessed with their genitalia. It’s not just “an act”, or a comedy approach. McBride is particularly fascinated with how much self-sex he can have now that the world is over. He has an argument with Franco over some facet of his “habit” that becomes an instant scatology classic. There’s also an unique emotional subtext here, one born directly out of our proposed knowledge of these people. Hill wants everyone to think he’s a nice guy. He also acts arrogant about his Moneyball Oscar nod. Baruchel is also seen as the stranger in a strange land, an outsider (he still lives in Canada, according to the movie) who hates what his pal Seth has become. He’s one mean mensch.
Along with Cera, however, Franco does the most to mess with his public face. He plays it straight, gay, goofy, smart, freakish, familiar, artistic and about a dozen different variations, all meant to measure how the tabloids and the media have interpreted him. Even Craig Robinson’s smooth, studly African American guise is given no quarter as he frets and screams over the smallest little issue. The cameos really kill it, especially a few saved for the finale, and when you take into consideration the talent on display, it makes sense that this movie would work. What’s astonishing, however, is how wrapped up we become in the dilemma our survivors face. We don’t want them to die. We want them to continue cutting up.
Indeed, there are a few scares here, moments when the movie goes from snickers to screams. Without giving much away, we get homages to Rosemary’s Baby (another brilliant sequence that will fly over the head of most Rogen and Company’s current devotees), The Exorcist, and The Road Warrior. The F/X have just the right amount of Judgment Day ingenuity and the body count keeps us guessing as to who will live and who might not. In essence, every aspect of This Is the End plays as a comment on who we think these guys are. Even at the conclusion, when we think we have it all figured out, another stellar surprise comes along to get us thinking about what this generation of comic actors truly represents.
This is the best thing Rogen has done since Knocked Up. It may be the best thing Baruchel has ever been involved in. For those who find a little Danny McBride goes a long way, you’ll think his aggressive awfulness here a sheer delight (especially when pining for a Your Highness sequel). From a comedy standpoint, Rogen and Goldberg excel. From a filmmaking standpoint, they exceed our wildest expectations. This Is the End will go down in history as one of those idiosyncratic Rat Pack like romps where a bunch of buds got together and decided to make a movie. But there is a subversive subtext here that argues for something more significant. Once you’re done laughing, you’ll see just how deep this delight goes.