“Is this movie more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?” The Gene Siskel Test.
It seems someone decided to skip the middle man and just make the documentary in the case of This is the End. And it works wonderfully. The actors involved have always been so naturally funny. Putting them in a situation where their personalities are able to bounce off each other. It’s one of the more natural recent comedies I’ve seen.
There is a lot of subtext as well with the fact that it takes place during the biblical apocalypse. I know those crazed Left Behind fans will probably hate that aspect of the movie. And it is not philosophically satisfying – if the Book of Revelation is true, I highly doubt salvation will come through transient gestures. But that’s not the point of This is the End. The ultimate point of the film is to show some of the funniest people working right now just hanging out and trying to have a good time while their world collapses.
Actually, the apocalypse aspect did not even have to be included. The first act is simply about Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel going to a party at James Franco’s house. Baruchel does not like Rogen’s Hollywood crowd, while Rogen is desperate to introduce Baruchel to his friends. Each of the guests at the party (which includes Michael Cera, Rhianna, Jonah Hill, Emma Watson, Aziz Ansari, Craig Robinson, Mindy Kaling, Jason Segel, Kevin Hart, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and probably a few other people I have forgotten) are exaggerated caricatures that exist to intimidate Jay. Cera in particular steals the scenes at the party, blowing cocaine into others faces and otherwise being a womanizing party animal that the others view as an embarrassment. These are great scenes, ones that show these comedians as people who are tired of doing what they do and use their stereotypical slacker personalities to at least give some meaning in their lives. Even with all their money and fame, they are unhappy. Some will find such complaints annoying, but Jay and Seth in particularly make the situation seem universal. Keep up this momentum, rename it A Night at James Franco’s House, and it still would have been a good movie.
But the apocalypse happens, and the film takes a more dramatic turn (although there is still plenty of room for jokes about genitals and other people pointing out that Danny McBride is a jerk). The five or six survivors, after wasting time filming home video sequels to their own movies and doing drugs, realize that this is the biblical apocalypse and they have not been good enough to ascend into heaven. It creates quite an existential crisis for them – doesn’t the fact that they have given the world laughter mean that they are good people? Slowly they reveal to themselves just how selfish and terrible they really are, even in the most subtle ways. My favorite gag in the entire film has Jonah Hill praying that God kill Jay. “Hi, it’s me, Jonah Hill,” he starts his prayer, “from Moneyball.” The eventual response to this prayer cannot be repeated here, but it’s those moments that keeps a potentially boring premise alive for its run time.
It also allows us to ponder the meaning behind what these actors face internally. The disaster could have been any number of things – an earthquake, global warming, alien invasion, anything that would have kept them stuck in their mansion. But the morality elements allow the people to look inward. I know it’s all sarcasm, but they’re all committed to it. And not all of them receive happy endings. I know that Bozo the Manic Depressive has become a cliche, but the cast makes it seem fresh just by being themselves and doing what we can expect them to do.
There is a certain amount of melancholy to the idea behind the film. The Slack Pack (as I like to call them) have been an integral part of comedy for almost ten years. Unfortunately, that means that some audiences will look at them as old hat and their film personalities as false and obnoxious. They may not be able to keep doing what they’re doing. Just look at Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, who waited eight years to make a follow up to Wedding Crashers and watched the results bomb with audiences. This is the End gloriously thumbs its nose as such an option. Even if audiences grow tired of their antics and their careers end (certainly an event seen as apocalyptic in Hollywood) they’ll still be there to help each other. And that’s all that matters.