This is the End walks an incredibly fine line — certainly more daring than anything else that mainstream American comedians have cooked up in a long while. The conceit is that most of Hollywood’s young comedy elite — Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and an endless army of cameos — are playing versions of themselves stretched out to various degrees of fictionality. After years of establishing themselves as likable, amicable goofballs in just about every major work of their careers (these men are alums of Superbad, Pineapple Express, Knocked Up and the like), This is the End shines a bright light on the darker, more narcissist side of these young stars — and in doing so, serves as a backwards reflection on fame and notoriety at large.
Did I mention it does this in an unbelievably funny way? Here’s the premise — all of young Hollywood has gathered to a party at James Franco’s house. Emma Watson, Rihanna, Jason Segel, Michael Cera (who absolutely slaughters it in playing an insane coke-addled version of himself) and Paul Rudd are among the luminaries under Franco’s roof. But soon, the world very literally begins ending outside — people being sucked into the sky, monsters emerging, massive sinkholes forming in the ground. Consequently, everyone’s dead but our core six protagonists — Seth, James, Jay, Craig, Jonah and Danny, who are now holed up in Franco’s trendy LA pad with dwindling food, swelling egos, and a lot of drugs.
Given the hysterically amoral nature of much of the film, it’s important to keep some form of an emotional core. The film provides that in the friendship between Seth and Jay — with Jay’s skeptical attitude towards fame clashing with Seth’s hyper-friendly, Hollywood-partying ways. The film never loses sight of them, even as it juggles other mega-watt stars and their dramas, quirks and flaws.
And my god, the stars. Everyone here is in peak comedic form, with razor-sharp timing and ace chemistry. Jonah Hill’s sycophant religious nut is a joy, James Franco riffs on his more arty, bourgeois tendencies, Danny McBride is a foul-mouthed villain that’s easily the most quotable of the group, and Craig Robinson gets a killer musical number entitled “Take Yo Panties Off”.
The film is co-directed by star Seth Rogen and long-time partner Evan Goldberg. While their technical finesse is nothing to write home about, with particularly flat visual effects, its their evident skill with comedic set-up and solid grasp of character that shows an odd, unexpected discipline in this duo.
Another key concept they clearly grasp — one that many recent comedies could stand to pay attention to — is not overstaying their welcome. This is the End comes a little under two hours, but never becomes too bogged down in monotony — a small miracle, given the limited amount of stars and locations in 75% of the film.
This is the End is as self-indulgent as mainstream films come, true, but why is that a bad thing? To dive head-deep into one’s own ideas also reflects a large amount of passion and conviction. Unusual words to describe a hard R-rated comedy? Certainly. Earned words to describe THIS hard R-rated comedy? Certainly. A-