This is the End
2013 - 107 minutes
Directed by: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Written by: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Emma Watson, Michael Cera
“This is the End” adopts a seemingly novel approach when compared to most film comedies of late: it contains moments that are funny and genuinely entertaining. The main (and several supporting) actors playing versions of themselves are all talented and funny people and it’s readily apparent they’re doing things that would make them laugh. The only problem with this interplay of real-life friends and performers is that sometimes they feel at arm’s length and like the audience isn’t always in on the joke.
The setup is cleverly simple: Jay Baruchel is visiting his friend Seth Rogen in Los Angeles and reluctantly agrees to attend a party at James Franco’s house. There they encounter a number of friends and actors including main players Franco, Craig Robinson and Jonah Hill, and bit parts for Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Kevin Hart, Rihanna and a hilariously drugged out Michael Cera playing against his loveable nerd type. A brief and fairly funny “Superbad” reunion with Cera, Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (of McLovin fame) shows Cera’s level of inebriation.
While Rogen and Baruchel make a quick convenience store run, the apocalypse hits with The Rapture escorting the righteous to heaven in beams of light, and sinkholes swallowing most of the party-goers and opening a gateway for the Devil and his demons to walk the Earth.
The survivors – Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Robinson, Hill and an oblivious Danny McBride who wakes from an alcohol-induced slumber and cooks all the remaining food – barricade themselves in the home with Franco’s fine art, snowboards and duct tape. McBride is the standout of the show with his affable jerk able to act completely selfishly and yet remain sympathetic. There is an overt hostility between him and Franco that feels a little forced, but makes for some funny moments.
All of the character arcs are largely underwhelming, especial the main one of Baruchel’s hatred of Los Angeles culture and Rogen’s new group of friends. He resents the distance growing between him and his old friend and in several instances plays whiny and self-righteous, and not in a funny way. The drama is handled best in smaller comedic moments, as in the questioning of Rogen’s new gluten-free diet in an early scene (“you don’t even know what a gluten is”). But by the final act we’ve been reminded of their tension so much and in such obvious ways it becomes a little tiresome.
As the fires burn outside, the vast majority of the film takes place in the one location of Franco’s home. While the characters are able to sustain a level of interest throughout, it feels like there is some fat to be trimmed. There are quiet moments and reactions that go on for a long time that may be funny to the players but isn’t anything we need to be privy to. This is essentially a one-joke premise stretched to feature length and carried by a talented cast, but even they can’t completely fill nearly two hours with constant laughs. There are only so many anatomy and drug jokes to be told and there is an unfortunate dearth of quality quotable lines.
A few scenes go on too long, including one involving Emma Watson – who appears at the home looking for shelter – and what it could mean for her to be alone in a stressful situation with five men. There’s a comedic beginning to a tasteless joke, but by the payoff of her smashing Seth Rogen with an axe handle it’s more uncomfortable than funny. It’s a testament to Watson that even though she is referenced as Hermione a few times we see her as riffing on the image of Emma Watson the actress, not on the role that made her famous. She’s definitely matured into a promising career.
When the crew finally leaves the confines of the home and enters the fiery apocalypse, the third act feels more like an extended epilogue in a series of scenes that are afterthoughts in order to quickly wrap things up. Despite the clever ending of Franco’s character arc, not enough is done with the idea of how to save yourself from the apocalypse and there really isn’t a satisfying payoff for all of the waiting.
First-time directors Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg do a good job of setting the stage for the actors to perform, most of their heavy lifting done in the initial scenes of chaos, which include a couple effective jump scares. Their only real misstep is allowing so much filler to linger in a slightly bloated runtime – Jonah Hill’s possession scenes contain no real purpose and it’s a weak section of the film. But in the end “This is the End” leaves little to really complain about, with an interesting premise and likable performers subverting their images. In a way, they’re able to play their typecast personas while simultaneously breaking out of them. And also cracking up an audience starved for quality comedy.
© 2013 by Blake Crane