–A review of This Is The End
The only problem I had was in not taking this film seriously, because I wasn’t supposed to, I guess. This Is The End, starring the latter day rat-pack of Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson, is a delicious comedy that moves so quickly and is so densely packed with ideas, it’s hard to believe it’s only 107 minutes long. Even the scenes that are gratuitously violent—and there are a few—seemed like breaks for my much taxed yet entertained concentration.
The plot is as follows: Jay and Seth are old friends, actors/comedians or writers, reuniting in LA. At first Jay seems like a slacker visiting his more famous buddy (everyone is playing themselves), but really he’s an introvert: he craves down time, video games, weed and junk food. The last thing he needs is to hang out with Seth’s pretentious friends, headed by James Franco, the coolest kid on the block, whose party draws a who’s who of tweenie Hollywood. So, at the party, the likes of Michael Cera, Rhianna, and Emily Watson are present, being requisitely cool, yet patronizing Jay’s outsider vibe cuz he’s a friend of Seth. But the truth is they smell a hater. Craig’s Robinson’s (character?) calls him out, saying Jay is a hipster: someone compulsively “negative” about all the things one is supposed to like if attending parties like this. Actually, Jay is Holden Caulfield transported to the 21st century: he is sensitive, if self-righteous; brave, yet conflicted. Above all, he’s an alienated soul. In an ass-backwards sort of way, the cool people have him pegged.
The initial drama (and it seems more like drama than comedy at this point) appears to be that of a friendship going south. Yawn. Not exactly a deep premise for a film about people who seem to still be in their twenties—reminds me of a novel I wrote, to be honest. At the party, Seth, a born politician, tries to make it all smooth, but to no avail. He introduces Jay to James Franco, who becomes insufferably pedantic when Jay fails to idealize his home’s artwork. A meeting with the unconvincingly “nice” Jonah Hill is similarly awkward, and before long Jay is looking uncomfortable, desperate to get away from all these sycophants, these successful people. Jonesin’ for a cigarette, he implores Seth to join him on a run to a convenience store. As they walk out, it seems like a friendship-tearing watershed is about to happen, and nothing but pre-movie hype, or leaks from the set or promo department would clue anyone in as to what’s about to happen.
Next thing we know a glass wall is being shattered, and fleetingly it seems like a movie cut from the cloth of Crash or Falling Down is about to unfold. Moments later, as a series of blue light beams spear down from above and “suck up” handfuls of extras into the sky, it seems more like The War Of The Worlds is the blueprint. Either way the yawning should stop. A chase is on, with explosions all around. Terrified, Jay and Seth rush back to the scene of the party to cue the film’s first real joke: the party’s still going while everyone is oblivious to the mayhem outside. As Seth jabbers about earthquakes, Jay’s mind is spinning, having noticed the cosmic elements of the attack. He tries to bear witness to what he’s seen, but inevitably, his weirdness is reinforced by his manic explanations, and everyone looks at him like he’s crazy. Predictably, Seth commits the film’s first act of betrayal, joining the others in their dismissing of Jay. But soon there is comeuppance as partygoers hear commotion, step outside and face the burning hills of Hollywood. While some may have thought a South Central revolution has occurred, such assumptions are quickly shattered as the earth opens up, swallowing up most of the film’s cameo stars. Most hilarious is Michael Cera, who seems to enjoy playing a tweaked out superjerk who gets impaled by a streetlamp.
Horror film rules: those who deny get wasted, except those who also deny but are meant to learn something life-affirming as part of the story. Next, as the rat-pack holes up in James Franco’s bachelor pad, reality testing begins. It’s OMG time, sprinkled with lots of LOL. First task is to gather food and other supplies, and argue about who gets what. The middle section of the film is a satire upon all things to do with Hollywood and actors, riddled with obscene improv. On the surface, the dick jokes, the homophobic play, and general grossness may seem tasteless or old hat, but the dialogue is inspired lunacy, not so much written as spoken on the fly, as if this was a film made during a slumber party, with the cameras rolling after the actors got high and then stayed up all night. Despite the chaos, a series of themes are insinuated. First is the self-effacing idea that actors are really pussies instead of action figures, and the first lesson observed by all these divas is the importance of not being a fraud. Several scenes follow in which the guys are portrayed as feckless and woefully un-resourceful—unable to share either water or even a Milky Way bar.
Jay is the voice of sanity and the film’s moral center, and Baruchel plays this role with remarkable freshness, even charm. He squints, bewildered as his peers flitter in and out of delusion. Jonah Hill says this drama is like a “sleepover”; he’s trying to stay positive, “make this fun”. Jay introduces to their consciousness the possibility that a Biblical “End of Days” scenario is occurring, and likens the blue beams he’s seen to events depicted in the Book of Revelation. The others scoff, all except Craig, who is the next character to manifest a heroic streak. A party/survival scene crasher arrives in the form of Danny McBride, who steals food, water, masturbates on the plants, etcetera. If this is hell, then he’s a devil’s helper, a Caliban taking his revenge on everyone responsible for his lifelong ostracism, about which he expresses self pity with grim, unapologetic delivery. Franco, whose home Danny is shitting on, is the most offended, so next a theme about how society expels the unwanted is played out. In the midst of this, one of the funniest and most clever scenes involves the return of a cameo star. Emily Watson breaks in, looking for refuge. Initially, she is relieved to find familiar faces, but when she overhears the guys talking about rape in the hallway outside her bedroom, she loses it and becomes something like Hermione on crack, taking out a phallic balloon model (of course) with an axe. On the one hand, this scene is an excuse for a few Harry Potter jokes, but it also depicts another aspect of Jay’s outsider morality. In truth, it seems misguided for him to raise the specter of rape, appealing for guys’ sensitivity in light of Watson’s outnumbered and vulnerable status. They, of course, feel accused rather than enlightened, and an important message is sent—albeit through humor—about empathy being lost amid the noise of defensiveness.
Still, something has been sparked by Jay’s consciousness raising: namely, an attention to ulterior, if not unconscious motives. Soon guys are challenging Jay’s self-righteousness, questioning his self-proclaimed honor, pointing out that he’s been lying about avoiding Seth’s company in recent months. Losing his temper, Jay strikes Jonah Hill, whose “nice guy” quality Jay has always hated and distrusted, and storms out. There’s a nice, incisive moment wherein Seth turns away, hurt but also hapless, hiding. His habit of passivity is likewise being called out, and thereafter a comic drama about denied rage ensues. The comedy takes the lead, so it seems fitting that this theme is expressed through demonic possession, with Jonah Hill performing the parody, first of Mia Farrow from Rosemary’s Baby, and then, naturally, becoming the possessed creature of The Exorcist, hilariously mocking Jay’s Hollywood-taught attempt at an exorcism: “Is it compelling, Jay? Really? It’s not that compelling!”
These guys have all seen too many movies. Save for Jay, movies are their religion, their only reference points for what is real. As the film nears a climax, Franco’s home is destroyed, and the guys are forced into the streets to survive. Craig plays the hero and attacks the “Red Dragon”, the ultimate villain whose appearance, Jay has foreseen via Bible passages he’s found, strangely enough, in Franco’s home. (side note niggle: is it credible that Franco would own a Bible?) But just as he’s being devoured by the beast, a blue beam appears, and Craig is saved. The others witness this and rejoice, now realizing how to survive this ordeal. But hasty attempts to “be good” aren’t gonna work, no matter how entertaining they may be for the viewer. Heroism, or goodness, must be spontaneous and real. To survive, one must no longer be fake. This leads to another hilarious, not to mention suspenseful finale, in which Franco’s pretensions, his arrogance, lead to his downfall. While being “sucked up” (to heaven, they presume), he gloats at Danny McBride as he begins to rise. Immediately, he is punished for this unsportsmanlike conduct, and is dropped back into McBride’s lap, left to his mercy. Meanwhile, in order to survive, Jay and Seth must resolve their conflict, their flat estrangement, with quick decisions, inspired action, and genuine brotherly love. Do they survive together, reunite for real? Or, do they go their separate ways? You know the answer. In the end of (the day), this is a movie, and togetherness—love—always prevails.
This Is The End finishes on a cop out note, making a hipster joke out of Jay and Seth’s heavenly ascension to the tune of a Whitney Houston song. It’s a funny scene, successful in beating back tears that might—emphasize might—have been shed in watching this bit climax the film. Yeah, it’s a movie, but it’s a guy’s movie: in the end, what we do is drink beer, masturbate or fuck chicks (or try to, at least), take a hit of something, say fucked up things, and party til’ we drop. BFF.
Merry Christmas Nick