This is the End (2013) – Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – Starring James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Rihanna, Kevin Hart, Jason Segal, David Krumholtz, Paul Rudd, Martin Starr, Mindy Kaling, Channing Tatum, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Aziz Ansari, and the Backstreet Boys.
BE AWARE THAT SPOILERS FOLLOW, SO DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE PLOT DETAILS DISCUSSED.
In broad strokes, I’m not a huge fan of the movies of James Franco and Seth Rogen, and I’ve never gone to see a single movie starring any of the stars of this film (Franco, Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson) because it starred them. I like Craig Robinson, I enjoy Danny McBride in small doses, I think Jonah Hill should start doing more dramas than comedies (because he was excellent in Moneyball), and Jay Baruchel has the most horrendous voice this side of Fran Drescher.
When I first learned of THIS IS THE END a few months ago, I had zero interest in seeing it, but when I first saw the trailer for the film, I thought it was kinda funny, and the more trailers I saw, the more I started to actually look forward to it. I’m also glad it came out on Man of Steel weekend because I absolutely hate going to a crowded movie theater and this gave me something to see without having to jostle for elbow room with loud high school kids or fundamentalist Superman fans who’d spend the entire film bitching about what Zack Snyder got wrong.
There weren’t many people at the screening for THIS IS THE END and that’s a shame because this is a really funny movie that helps to reaffirm two theories: 1. judge films by the films on the screen, not by the people in them, and 2. we’re on the verge of a 20 year run of Emma Watson being the most beautiful woman on the planet.
From start to finish, THE END delivers a consistent stream of laughs. Co-directors and co-screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg do a really great job balancing the jokes between the movie’s stars and they have a solid subplot playing under the apocalypse, with the divide between Rogen’s longtime friend Jay Baruchel, and his new Hollywood pals. While it’s not a new conceit anymore to see actors playing alternate versions of themselves on screen (it’s been about a quarter century since It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, which wasn’t the first show to do this but feels like it’s the most inspirational for this generation of filmmakers), the actors of THE END largely do the style proud, playing some combination of who they really are while also taking the piss out of their own public image.
Take Franco. He had a nice run as a Renaissance Man of sorts (or what passes for one in Hollywood) these past few years and in THE END, he’s the most accomplished actor in the bunch. It’s his house – his semi-ridiculous house – where the main action takes place, and he’s got it stuffed with his own artwork (including a giant penis and a pair of paintings that include just his own name on one and Rogen’s on the other) and props from his former movies. His personality is a reflection of the house; he is both the most grown-up of all of them, but also the most scattered. As we learn from several comments party-goers make, the house is designed in such a way that you can hear every conversation from every room, which suggests a paranoia that’s reflected by his mistrust of McBride and his neediness to have Rogen’s approval.
Franco and Baruchel represent the two sides of Rogen’s life: Hollywood and pre-Hollywood, and Rogen and Goldberg do a pretty good job weaving this subplot through the movie. It does make Baruchel unlikable, because even though he’s a Hollywood actor and all, his schtick is that he’s anti-Hollywood, and doesn’t like coming to town. The movie opens with him arriving at the airport to spend some time with Rogen, but after a day filled with Carl’s Jr, candy, video games, and pot, Rogen wants to go to Franco’s house for a huge party. Baruchel doesn’t want to go because he doesn’t like Rogen’s new friends. The film positions him as both the “good guy,” because he’s the first to realize what they’re experiencing is the Biblical apocalypse but also kind of a dick because he doesn’t want to be there and he thinks he’s better than everyone else.
Unfortunately, in the film’s one major misstep, the film ends up rewarding Baruchel instead of Franco with a trip to Heaven. It has to do this, really, because of the way the film is set-up. In a dueling battle of buddies, his long-term friendship with Rogen wins out over Franco’s shorter-term friendship, even though Franco comes off as the much-nicer guy. Not a great guy, mind you, because Rogen and Goldberg wisely give everyone both positive and negative qualities. All of the leads do good things and bad things: McBride starts by making everyone breakfast and ends by becoming a cannibal, Jonah Hill is the “sweetest guy” at the start and prays to God to kill Jay Baruchel near the end, and Craig Robinson is generally the nicest guy throughout the film, which is why he’s rewarded with the group’s first trip to Heaven.
Yes, Heaven. This really is the apocalypse taking place and not some kind of shared drug illusion. Franco’s party is filled with all sorts of young Hollywood types and for the most part everyone does a good job lampooning themselves. The scene feels like it’s included just because Rogen could get Kevin Hart and Mindy Kaling and Jason Segel to show up for a few hours, but it sets a nice tone. Michael Cera seems to have the most fun creating a cinematic alter ego, a coke snorting, ass-slapping, sex fiend, but it’s also the least fun to watch because it’s so over the top and so far away from his image that it just feels like a put-on. Everyone else crafts an alter ego that at least feels believable. I think my favorite bit is a quick conversation between Segal and Hart where the former is describing a really sitcomish, obvious bit from what’s clearly (though unspoken) How I Met Your Mother about how he’s got cake on his face which signals his guilt at eating the cake left in the fridge, and Hart replies with a knowing, “That’s why you’re #1.”
The other person who feels a bit off is Emma Watson. Like with Cera, the film wants to milk comedy out of the fact that she does things you don’t believe, but she can’t quite commit to doing something ridiculous. While Cera comes off too over-the-top, it’s admirable that he commits so fully to a role that has him slapping Rihanna’s ass, blowing cocaine in Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s face, getting a combo blowjob/rimjob from two girls in the bathroom, and finally being the first celebrity killed when the world goes to hell. Watson’s appearance just never really comes together. I don’t believe she’d even come to this party, and if she did, I think it might have worked better to play up her awkwardness or go all out and have her do the kind coke snorting/ass slapping bits that Cera engages in.
Watson comes back later in the film as an ax-wielding bad-ass, but she bails after hearing the guys outside her room talking about who’s most likely to rape her. It’s an edgy bit. After Franco puts her in a bedroom so she can rest, the guys are in the hallway and Baruchel awkwardly raises the issue about wanting to make sure that they make her feel safe, since she’s the only woman there. The other guys are horrified by his insinuation and they start arguing about it, which Watson overhears and bursts from the room with her ax, demanding they give her all their liquids, and then she takes off. I just feel like I’m supposed to go, “Oh, Emma Watson with an ax, that’s funny.” But it’s not. It just doesn’t work as well as everything else in the film works because it’s just a series of scenes, not an arc or a real character.
But that doesn’t take away from the film. All of the leads are really funny and have really good moments. The scene in the kitchen where they argue over a single Milky Way candy bar after they realize they’re stuck together perfectly encapsulates the film’s humor. By spreading out the workload, the film is constantly moving, even though they’re largely stuck in one place. All the leads are willing to laugh at themselves, and they do a good job coming together (like when they make Pineapple Express 2 with a single camera) and bursting apart (like when they kick McBride out of the house) time and again.
I really like this movie. I laughed the whole time and it manages to tell a good story that creates and allows for the jokes, instead of simply being a host of bits strung together. If you completely hate these actors, that might be too much to overcome, but if you’re willing to give them a shot, this is a very funny, very unique movie.