Massive laughs start at the “End”

this is the end

This Is The End

dir. Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Release Date: Jun 12, 13

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When trying to understand the relative longevity of the Apatow comedy factory, relatability is one of the biggest keys. On film, modern comedians have often come off as larger than life even if playing everymen. For all of Adam Sandler’s archetypal posing as the dude next door, he’s always been Movie Star Adam Sandler playing the common man. By contrast, actors like Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen have built star personae around being guys you could just hang out with for an afternoon. This idea comes full circle in This Is The End, a film in which a who’s-who of current comedians (and for that matter, young Hollywood actors in general) come together to ask and answer the question of how your favorite stars would handle the apocalypse.

The meta-tinkering starts early, with Jay Baruchel flying into Hollywood to spend a weekend with longtime buddy Seth Rogen. (If the two leads playing themselves irritates you, consider seeing Man of Steel instead. This won’t be the film for you.) After spending a day getting high and playing video games, Rogen brings a reluctant Baruchel to a party at James Franco’s house. The star-studded debauchery is cut short when the Hollywood hills catch fire and a massive sinkhole opens in the front yard, swallowing much of the cast and whittling the survivors down to Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and an unhinged Danny McBride, who passed out in Franco’s bathtub and missed out on the end of the world. 90 minutes of referential gags, jaw-dropping vulgarity and surprising levels of graphic violence ensue.

Much of the film is structured as a hangout comedy based on an earlier short film that Rogen and co-writer/director Evan Goldberg shot. They also collaborated on the screenplays for Pineapple Express and Superbad, and like those films, This Is The End makes up for its unwieldy moments and occasionally undisciplined editing with a volley of jokes so hilarious and dealt at such breakneck speeds that you’ll barely notice. The minute you do, Hill will introduce himself to God as “Jonah Hill…from Moneyball” or McBride will trash-talk the failure of Your Highness, and the film sucks you back in just as quickly as it pushes you away. For the first time in years, here’s a movie so audaciously, relentlessly funny that you’ll be hard-pressed not to seek out friends and tell them they have to see this.

It’s also a measure of how assured Rogen and Goldberg are as a filmmaking team that a film built around watching celebrities interact with each other becomes a goldmine of character development. At the core of the film is the same bromance dynamic that Rogen and Goldberg and their contemporaries have long worked with, this time between Rogen as a burgeoning A-list movie star and Baruchel as the scrappy comedian who worries that his friend is abandoning him for the trappings of fame. The MVP here, though, is Hill, who savages his public image as portly comedian-turned-svelte Oscar nominee, and plays himself as an unbearably smug L.A. hipster with a latent mean streak. Everybody in the film gets at least one big character moment, especially McBride, who manages to expand on the sociopathy of his work on Eastbound & Down; his showdown with Franco over water rations makes for the film’s most guffaw-ready moment.

That Flyboys joke is also a testament to This Is The End’s biggest strength, which is how intelligent a movie this is for being so gleefully dumb as a whole. Few mainstream movies have ever demanded the level of pop cultural literacy that this one does, which may be off-putting to some and border on a circle jerk for others, but reveals itself as sharp satire of the current state of Hollywood, in which audiences have mistaken star personae for the real-life people. In order to appreciate the film, you have to know who these people are as seen by the Internet, and so Franco becomes that guy from Spider-Man who’s gotten into queer cinema and Baruchel is the guy nobody’s heard of/voice in How To Train Your Dragon.

The film’s intelligence also extends to how Biblical it’s willing to get after a time, to such a degree that it may well stir up some controversy and alienate some audiences. This is a good thing, though. When tensions start to rise in the house and the drugs and booze run out, This Is The End moves into meditating on why its stars were left behind when the end times came. Most are perplexed; as Franco notes at one point, “We bring joy into people’s lives!” Wisely, the film knows that this isn’t nearly enough. And if the ending gets a little preachy and a lot overcooked, it also ultimately turns the movie into a parable about how being famous doesn’t inherently make you a good person, but being a good friend does. For all the CGI, the big stars and the bigger laughs, This Is The End lands closest to Superbad, where the adventures are never as important as the people you bring along. That’s a pretty quaint notion to offer up in such a cynical time in the moviegoing year.