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Film Review: This Is the End

This Is the End (2013; Directed by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg)

This Is the End answers a question you’ve probably never thought it worthwhile to ask (and may not think it so even after watching the movie): If the apocalypse happened, a full-on fire-and-brimstone Book of Revelations Judgement Day event with demonic beasts and the Rapture and cataclysmic earthquakes, what would happen to all of the comedic actor bros from Judd Apatow’s movies and TV shows? You know, Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Jay Baruchel, favoured Apatow collaborators since his television days of Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared, and maybe Jonah Hill and Micheal Cera from Superbad, and also Danny McBride and Craig Robinson from Pineapple Express. Since it goes without saying that these guys hadn’t lived life blamelessly and righteously enough to be deserving of ascension straight to heaven (I mean, you’ve seen Your Highness, right? There’s no coming back from that), would they survive? If a pack of them were holed up together with dwindling supplies in, let’s say, James Franco’s pretentious contemporary-art-strewn mansion as Los Angeles burned outside, could they cooperate and coexist in order to stay alive, or would resentful bickering and masculine disagreements tear their de facto band apart amidst the unusual pressures of Armageddon?

This Is the End takes this bottle-episode scenario of homosocial bunker mentality to appropriate extremes. All of the aforementioned comedic actors play exagerrated versions of themselves, and come in for rough treatment in Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s script (the duo also direct and produce) as well as in the heavy improvisations (apparently only Franco, who presents as a pompous self-interested prick second only to the generally abrasive McBride, did not object to how he came across, suggesting a capacity for self-deprecation henceforth largely unglimpsed in the man). The premise is that they’re all attending a lavish Hollywood housewarming party at Franco’s new pad (not filmed in L.A. but in tax-break-offering New Orleans), along with cameoing celebs like Rihanna, Emma Watson, Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, and more. Baruchel is visiting and staying with his old friend and Undeclared and Knocked Up co-star Rogen and had hoped to spend more time with him rather than being reluctantly dragged to a big Hollywood affair. The tension in their fading friendship is at the heart of the movie, and becomes all the more strained when Baruchel watches people being raptured out of a convenience store and he and Rogen barely escape crashing cars to get back to Franco’s place, where a deep sinkhole with a magma bottom opens up on the front lawn and starts swallowing B-level talent like a Netflix development contract (Got ‘Em).

Micheal Cera goes first of many, which is honestly surprisingly disappointing seeing as wild degenerate coke fiend Micheal Cera is a great improvement over halting awkward Micheal Cera (he was grateful to Rogen and Goldberg for helping him to try to escape his typecasting with this role). This movie is hardly gentle, and carries a serious body count; as in The Interview, Rogen and Goldberg’s comedy sensibility is not unafraid to get blood on its hands. Quickly enough, the cast is whittled down to the volatile sextet of Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Hill, McBride, and Robinson, with a brief re-appearance by a bat-swinging Watson, who they quickly alienate and drive off (with a clutch of their precious supplies, to boot) with an overheard conversation about making her feel at ease among so many men that swiftly degenerates into misapprehended (and actually carefully contextualized so as not to offend) rape concern commentary (Mila Kunis was originally supposed to fill this role, but then one of the film’s best jokes would have been lost, McBride’s crestfallen post-mortem summary: “Hermione just stole all of our shit”). This conflict-heavy fratty atmosphere (Franco and McBride clash over many things, although none at quite the absurd length of an interminable argument about ejaculation) persists as their situation becomes more desperate and the demonic beings unleashing the apocalypse threaten them from outside the house and eventually from within.

This Is the End is based on Jay & Seth Vs. The Apocalypse, a short film Baruchel and Rogen made in 2007 to stir up industry interest in the final feature film’s core concept of a pair of bickering buddies navigating both the existential threats of Armageddon and the prideful microaggressions of male companionship. Like most of the comedy movies from this stable of creatives, This Is the End is a predominant (and only fleetingly ironic or self-examining) sausagefest lorded over by a smothering dude-ish sensibility, with all the women’s roles either sexualized (Kaling, Rihanna, and Watson are all basically reduced to sex jokes, although the latter two are allowed to clap back at least) or very much not (a mean woman at the convenience store gets a violent comeuppance). There’s also some percolating, troubling homophobic anxiety at play in the comedy, with Hill being sexually violated by a possessive demon and his 21 Jump Street co-star Channing Tatum showing up in a cameo as a submissive sex slave to Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic raiders.

The humour runs towards the usual dude-comedy fodder of food, sex, bodily functions, pop culture references, recreational drug use, and prolific cussing (though not prolific enough to crack this most definitive of masterlists) as befits a largely improvised movie from a bunch of guys well-versed in such (not necessarily) sophomoric material throughout their careers. Your mileage may vary with this stuff, but Rogen and Goldberg are capable enough filmmakers to keep happenings fresh and unpredictable, particularly in late-film action and effects sequences and horror homages to The Omen and The Exorcist (the demon-possessed Hill is quite funny in the latter, with his unimpressed and casual asides during the believer Baruchel’s attempt to get the power of Christ to compel him: “Guess what? It’s not that compelling.”) There’s surprisingly nice cinematographical work as well from DP Brandon Trost, including the very memorable image introducing McBride below.

Given that we’re living through an era of viral pandemics, mass unrest, rising authoritarianism, and imminent socioeconomic and climatological collapse in which the apocalyptic is not merely in vogue but presenting as a terrifyingly urgent possibility, This Is the End could be approached today as either a trifling trivialization or a cathartic invocation of those fears. As befits its comedic genre, this is not a disaster movie circling and underlining the supposed realism of its depicted end of the world as we know it, grounding this apocalypse very much in Christian eschatology and its fantastical supernatural elements (see the final face-off with a hundreds-of-feet-tall Satan, who you’d better believe is on the receiving end of a penis joke). This choice becomes funnier when you consider how much of the core onscreen and offscreen creative talent is Jewish (and thus presumably do not subscribe to Christian millenarianism), but it does not transfer to grounding the events in the moral and ethical questions of these beliefs; one conversation comes close to addresses these conundrums, and there is a generalized suggestion that being a good person and sacrificing for the benefit of others is the path to paradise, but it’s not really interested in such matters and clumsily mangles them in the service of humour. The Good Place, this ain’t.

This Is the End is a shock-humour stoner comedy about the end of world with a frat-boy-meta take on self-regarding celebrity culture (Rogen cited Charlie Kaufman’s films as an influence, which is quite the thing) in which a major plot point is Jonah Hill being raped by a demon and which ends with a Backstreet Boys cameo in heaven (a semi-ironic “Christmas in Heaven” for the millenial generation). It’s more ambitious than your usual bro-heavy knee-slapper, but it still hardly reinvents the wheel and doesn’t have anything much to offer in the way of social commentary, as the apocalyptic genre frequently does. It was an understandable impulse in 2013 to want to laugh at the end of the world, but in 2020, the joke is not nearly as funny.

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