When Shane Carruth’s absurdly (and I would say “intentionally”) convoluted Upstream Color was released, there was an online rush from cinema geeks to defend it. I remember particularly one Twitter user arguing that one should spend some time really thinking about the movie before making any final determinations on it, urging not to make any snap judgments. I joked–without having seen it–that the movie was awful, but that anybody reading my one-sentence take-down of the film ought not to argue until they’d taken some time to mull over my response. All of this is a circuitous way of saying that perhaps it would be wise to hold back a moment with regard to Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg’s apocalypse comedy This is The End, to spend some time thinking about it a little bit more before saying anything I might regret. After all, I initially called Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void a failure, but quickly realized it is a masterpiece… would hate to make that mistake again.
And yet I want to give you my gut reaction, which I think is more than that because I’ve had a full day to think about it now. I think that This is The End is a work of genius. I worry, of course, whether the topical humor will hold up years from now. When Channing Tatum, for example, isn’t as famous as he is now (blasphemy!), will his cameo bring the laughs that it did in the summer of 2013? I recently re-watched The Player, and some of the Hollywood in-jokes had lost their flavor to me even since I’d first seen the movie some seven years ago. But is The Player any less of an incredible Robert Altman flick because some of its references are growing stale? I want to say, emphatically, that the answer is no. It’s only been 20 years, though; we’ll see how things look in another ten years. I guess it’s safe for me to say, for at least the next 20 years, that This is The End is riotously funny, wonderfully insightful, and with a stunning amount of heart. It’s fantastic.
Before writing this review, I went back to read my review for Pineapple Express, an earlier Seth Rogen/James Franco pairing that I adored for its wacky humor, pathos, and realistically absurd situations. What I mean by realistically absurd is that the film turns into an insane action flick quite quickly, yet the guys are constantly being injured and/or unaware of how to react. This is The End functions in a similar manner – one part that made me crack up had Roger and Franco fighting off a demon in Franco’s house (did I mention this movie takes place during the Christian rapture?). Franco tries to throw a big piece of metal to Rogen to use as a weapon, but all it manages to do it hit Roger in the arm, causing him to fall down in pain. Those touches are great. As to the pathos, back in 2008 it was fashionable to refer to it as bromance, but I think we’re past that time as a nation, thank god. In fact, funny enough, I’ve heard more complaint about the few vaguely homophobic lines than juvenile tittering about the close relationship between the heterosexual men in the movie – how far we’ve come in five short years. Again, the relationship between the characters – Rogen and Jay Baruchel in particular (did I mention the actors are playing themselves, or versions of themselves anyway, in this movie?) – is great, the kind of honest portrayal of close male friendship that doesn’t get shown often enough on film. When Baruchel first arrives in L.A. to hang out with his pal Rogen, he finds that his friend has an elaborate set-up of snacks, soda, and copious amount of marijuana laid out so that the pair can have a great weekend. Rogen has even taken the time to spell out Baruchel’s name in joints. “Jay in j’s,” Rogen smiles. I am so glad that in the enlightened year of 2013, I can say without fear of testosterone-fueled reprisal: that scene is just adorable.
But it’s the comedy of the thing that’s most winning, and I’m not about to go into some prosaic dialectic on why the film is a Hollywood satire or how well that works just because the actors are playing versions of themselves and they get trapped in a Hollywood mansion during the end of days. Instead, I just want to focus on how incredibly funny the movie is. As an example, take a moment that could have been trite but works: after the apocalypse begins, the group of friends – James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, and Jonah Hill – try to sleep, but find it difficult to rest while flames light up the sky and people are screaming outside. We see a dark figure move into Baruchel’s room – is a demon? As it gets closer, the light shines through and it’s Rogen. “It’s too scary to sleep alone. I’m sleeping with you.” The two lie side-by-side on the bed, talking about the reality of their situation and another figure enters from the dark. Oh no! Oh, wait, it’s just Craig Robinson, equally scared and looking for comfort. They settle in once again, only to be shocked by Hill standing behind them. “I’m sorry,” he says, “Franco’s got this crazy open-floor plan. I can hear everything you guys are saying.” It’s a strange sentiment, but it makes sense in the situation and is such a funny justification for entering the room after everybody else had admitted being terrified.
Then there’s an extended sequence where an actress manages to survive and make it to the house. While she’s trying to rest, the guys start a conversation to the effect that it is unseemly for a woman to be alone with a group of men – that they should avoid making her think that they are liable to rape her. Of course, the actress misunderstands the conversation as their plans to rape her and comes out of the bedroom swinging an ax. The way the scene builds up slowly from a well-meaning, if poorly phrased, sentiment until its boiled over into assault with an ax… it’s wonderful. And I mean, yes, it’s funny, but it’s also well-paced and constructed so that the “spinning out of control” feels so assured and nuanced. There are dozens upon dozens of scene as laugh-out-loud hilarious as the couple I’ve recounted, but I don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of them. Just trust me, even if maybe the humor isn’t coming across in print: the movie is outrageously funny.
But it’s that last thought that I want to touch on again: that the movie feels assured an nuanced. Much as I loved Pineapple Express, I had some reservations. “Yes, the movie makes its share of missteps…it took a little while for the movie to find its groove. But once it finds out what it wants to be and where it’s going, the ride is an ecstatically jubilant one.” This is The End, I feel, is firing on all cylinders right out of the gate. The plot is somewhat more circuitous than it needed to be, and some of the characters’ threads end kind of abruptly, but overall it feels like the movie has a good grasp on what it’s doing and does it well. Things like the group, parched from a lack of running water, finally getting access to clear H20, drinking the clear liquid out of martini glasses while “The Next Episode” plays, it’s a mad set-up, but one that makes sense within the context of the moment (getting water after going without for so long would conceivably justify such a celebratory music cue) and which is endlessly entertaining. It’s possible that time could dull some of the more topical humor at play within the movie, but there will still be a lot that holds up. Great movie.