Feeling nostalgic for March 2020? Miss those early pandemic days when you thought it would be nice to spend two weeks at home before heading back to your office or classroom? Didn’t think so.
The quarantine-set rom-com The End Of Us shows us that just because you can make a movie about an ongoing pandemic doesn’t mean you should. Heavy on isolation and light on romance and comedy, Steven Kanter and Henry Loevner’s SXSW movie is the latest project born out of the coronavirus. While The End of Us is hardly the worst (ahem, Songbird) and far from the best (Shudder’s seance thriller Host, Ben Wheatley’s In The Earth) of the bunch, it’s certainly going to be one of many inevitably contrived and cliched films to ride the COVID-19 wave as a plot point.
The movie rightfully begins at the end of the “before times”. Right at the end of normal workdays, of travel, of face-to-face interactions, and of the relationship between Nick (Ben Coleman) and Leah (Ali Vingiano)—bland twenty-something hipsters that will have viewers scratching their heads over what these two ever saw in each other. Nick is a struggling actor who has been mooching off girlfriend Leah, while he makes no effort at all to write his great Albert Einstein biopic. Leah is a two-dimensional workaholic with a Type-A personality who has been trying to make the relationship work for far too long. Ultimately, Leah pulls the plug and, while there’s never a good time for a break-up, the eve of a global pandemic is most definitely not one of those times.
Resigned to the fact that these ex-lovers will be housemates in isolation for longer than expected, The End Of Us tries to go for laughs in an uncomfortable situation. There’s the mask-wearing reminders, Zoom chats, layoffs and binge-watching days of the early pandemic. One of the film’s best jokes will appeal to cinephiles who find themselves torn between using their lockdown time to watch all the Criterion movies they have missed versus indulging in reality TV. But ultimately, the chemistry between the two characters and the two actors is non-existent, making it hard to get invested in the outcome of their relationship or in the film itself, as they fight for boundaries in their relationship and in a limited physical space.
As someone whose pandemic pursuits are largely limited to watching all of Colin Farrell’s movies and the endless discussion of true-crime series in like-minded group chats, I applaud Kanter and Loevner and their cast and crew for making use of their time in lockdown to produce a tangible product.
Perhaps it’s because The End Of Us presents an uncomfortable reality many of us are still living that the film never quite lives up to any quirky potential it so desperately aims for. The film itself is screening virtually at SXSW instead of playing to crowds full of Torchy’s Tacos, Texas BBQ and (this writer’s personal favourite), the grab-and-go sandwiches of Royal Blue Grocery. One can’t help but wonder how a movie like this would play to a crowd on the other side of the pandemic. Will it feel quaint to look back at the events of 2020 a decade from now? While it might be interesting to consider the shelf-life of a movie like The End Of Us, the reality is in a post-pandemic world it will most likely be forgotten.