This Is the End (2013)
Dirs. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
3.5 out of 5
The greatest joke played by the cast of This Is the End is their attempt to convince us that they’d let a little thing like the apocalypse get in the way of their friendship. The movie’s Apatow-era comedy elite - Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, and Jay Baruchel - play amped-up versions of themselves, their bickering and petty sniping coming from a well-earned intimacy rather than true jealousy or mean-spiritedness. (Remember, some of these guys have been working together since their late teens/early 20s.) This Is the End uses these pre-existing relationships - as well as a raft of celebrity cameos - to humorous effect as it transitions from the trials of a reluctant Baruchel attending a star-studded party at Franco’s house to a full-blown disaster movie as the prophecies from the Book of Revelation manifest in a hellish cataclysm that suddenly descends upon Los Angeles.
First-time directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg have a ball expanding an idea they originated in the 2007 short Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse, a mini-riff on close-quarters living and the solipsism that’s practically encoded into the celebrity lifestyle. None of the marooned actors express any sort of outrageous entitlement, per se, but they do remark that their fame will bump them to the top of the list of people to be “rescued.” Internalized privilege allows the sextet to dismiss the dangers surrounding them, a hand-waiving attitude toward the big picture that’s one part intention and one part sloppy filmmaking. But like a particularly close family, they magnify the little grievances because they love and respect each other so much - save for McBride, who plays a quasi-villain role as the gate-crashing wild card who’s ironically best equipped to handle the situation with his brutal honesty and unapologetic selfishness. He helps everyone realize that it’s possible to be too comfortable in your own skin, to the detriment of the welfare of others.
Still, This Is the End tends to back away from any serious self-examination, which is strange for a movie that’s literally about casting judgement. Rogen and Goldberg’s script glibly addresses the ethical questions posed by their premise, displaying only a perfunctory sense of what “being good” entails - a concept that’s crucial to the film’s resolution. But the lack of introspection is less of a missed opportunity than it seems. It’s really a question of smart editing, as the movie picks up the more these stars are able to laugh at themselves and tweak their public personae for the greater comedic good: for instance, Franco’s hoarding of weird art pieces and talismans from his leading-man roles, and McBride’s boorish insouciance that peaks in a stunning monologue defending his right to ejaculate anywhere he pleases. Similarly, This Is the End pokes fun at the very idea of disaster-porn entertainment by emphasizing the most clannish, basic levels of human interaction. It’s a giddy and profane junior high sleepover that just happens to feature winged hell-beasts and incubi from D&D nightmares, and a pointedly hilarious diversion from more ponderous summer blockbusters.