There’s no logical reason why Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s directorial debut This is the End should work outside of containing sheer, overpowering amounts of talent in front of the camera. Movies that are this bent on being metatextual representations of the real life people showing up in them are usually smug and arrogant affairs, but that’s definitely not the case with this razor sharp and incredibly well constructed send up of ego and excess told against the backdrop of an apocalyptic setting that’s fully realized and not tacked on as an afterthought. It becomes more than the mere trifle most would expect it to be on the surface and instead becomes the funniest comedy so far this summer and one of the seasons most pleasant, yet foul-mouthed surprises.
All Jay Baruchel wants to do on his trip to Los Angeles is spend time with his buddy Seth Rogen smoking weed and playing video game all weekend. Seth, on the other hand, drags Jay practically kicking and screaming to a house party full of people he would rather not be around. The party is a housewarming for James Franco, and the guest list is a who’s who of young Hollywood. During the party, however, an actual extinction level event starts happening just outside Franco’s heavily fortified doors and most of the partygoers never make it to the next day. After the apocalypse, Jay, Seth, Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride all have to band together if they want to survive in this harsh new world.
One could be dismissive of the film, saying that in its weaker moments the film is assembled like a bunch of MTV Movie Awards sketches strung together to pad out a feature length film, but this style works perfectly as a reflection of the people and personalities involved. There’s an acute knowledge that This is the End is simply an excuse to have a fun and silly ride, but the jokes never slack or flag. Everyone involved brings their A-game in terms of being to give and take in equal measure.
There are two massive credits to Rogen and Goldberg’s vision here: No one is allowed to ever overpower or unjustly bully another cast member, and the world that they find themselves within comes with a credibly built up threat. Every one of these people aren’t particularly loveable, but they’re just likable enough to hope they survive after watching all their friends get massacred in front of their eyes.
Rogen gets to play arguably the best rounded of the bunch, and it suits him well. Seth is the guy who has to constantly keep everyone together despite his friends all wanting to monopolize their time with him. Baruchel is likeable in how much he seems to hate the Hollywood sleaze around him and how he would rather, by his own admission, “drink pop and play video games” instead of partying and bro-ing down, but his own bizarre sense of self-righteousness becomes more of a hindrance to the group as their situation escalates. Hill deftly straddles the line between someone who’s really nice and someone incredibly disingenuous. Franco seems to be playing all the angles at all times, but he also seems arguably like the most fun of the bunch to hang out with. Robinson plays disaffected (wearing a ridiculous towel over his shoulder and the title of his delusional wannabe crossover single on his shirt), but with probably more brains than anyone else in the room. And McBride… well, he could die very easily, but that’s the kind of person he excels at playing. If there’s anyone here that’s typecast, it’s him.
The natural ease these man-child types have around each other could have inspired them all to coast on charm and gross out gags alone (not to mention a wealth of cameos involving more than those glimpsed in the film’s possibly far too telling trailer). Instead, Rogen and Goldberg push their charges and themselves to go further to get the most out of every possible punchline. Nothing is off limits (from Hill’s aspirations to be taken seriously to Franco’s sometimes outlandish art pursuits) and the obvious riffing is kept rigidly in check, making for a nice balance of the smartassed and the sublime.
Even more surprising is how special effects heavy the whole endeavour is and how the film doesn’t shy away from being one of the best horror comedies in quite some time. The creatures and threats within this apocalyptic world are just cheeky enough to warrant a giggle, but seconds later Rogen and Goldberg are always able to remind the audience of just how violent the world has become. It owes a considerable debt to the early works of Sam Raimi and just a slight modernist nod to Tenacious D albums.
This is the End can brusquely be dismissed by the unhip or easily offended as a piss take stoner comedy delivered by a bunch of arrogant comedic heavyweights with such contempt for their audience that they can’t be bothered to craft original personas for themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. The apocalypse has never been this much fun. For those willing to go along with what Rogen and company are selling, they’ll laugh till it hurts. (Or the world’s end. Whatever comes first.)