Friday, June 14, 2013

This Is the End (2013) – Review

Review: This Is the End is hilarious, insane, and above all very entertaining. The film is about best friends Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel who decide to get together for a weekend of hanging out (playing video games and smoking weed). Jay, being from Montreal, does not really like the celebrity-obsessed atmosphere of LA but begrudgingly agrees to accompany Seth to a party at James Franco’s house. Seth and Jay begin to feel at odds as Seth is very comfortable in the surroundings and with his ‘new’ friends, while Jay just wants to leave (and hates everyone there). However, suddenly, what seems like The Apocalypse happens, with many of the party guests being killed. Now, Seth and Jay are stuck in James Franco’s house with James, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson. Will they survive?

Writer-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have created something comically wonderful with This Is the End pairing Judd Apatow style (self-deprecating) improvisational humor with what amounts to be a horror style action-thriller. Much in the style of Ricky Gervais’s Extras, the actors all play somewhat exaggerated versions of themselves (for comedic and dramatic effect), allowing them to basically make fun of each other and themselves in sort of a meta way (as presumably the audience has seen most of these actors’ films and TV shows and knows who they are). In a strange way, even though the characters are still fictional depictions, the drama seems heightened as well due to the audience connecting to these famous people (as themselves). Thus, the audience enjoys the humor more because they are laughing with and at the actors, fully aware of their past work and personas, and are more dramatically engaged as well, which combined amplifies the overall experience.

However, if the viewer is oblivious to these actors and their past work, a lot of the jokes and elevated sense of excitement will probably be lost, and the film will not play nearly as well (and may not work at all). The story is very simple and not a lot of character development occurs (because they filmmakers assume the viewer does know going in). Additionally, the humor is almost completely dependent on the viewer knowing (to some extent) the personas of these actors (like James Franco being really into reading literature and studying art or Danny McBride personifying his Eastbound & Down character Kenny Powers). In this way, the film is like a sequel to the actors’ careers up until this point in time. To appreciate the sequel, the viewer must see what comes before it first.

But if the viewer is in the know, the humor throughout is very funny thanks to a talented cast (these are basically the best young comedians in Hollywood right now, for the most part). All these actors have come up through the ranks of or have frequently worked with Judd Apatow and the overall style of comedy in this film is very much in his mode. It feels like these actors (who are all friends in real life) just got together with a thinly outlined plot and just improvised jokes and scenarios (Evan Goldberg even made it his mission to get the actors to do more and more outrageous gags until they were too embarrassed or offended and said no – Rogen and Franco both never said no). Many of the jokes are very crude in nature, and there is a sense of each actor competing to come up with better, funnier stuff. The result is a comedy that is hysterical all the way through (and easily the funniest film so far this year) and there is a camaraderie among the actors that the audience can feel.

This Is the End also works as an action-thriller. First-time directors Rogen and Goldberg keep the film moving, which is vital to the film’s thriller aspect. The narrative does not lose momentum, and they also strike a good balance with the ‘empty space’ moments that are needed for the improv-comedy and the action sequences. Rogen and Goldberg also escalate the stakes and the danger as the film progresses – as things get rather insane and the third act is brilliantly funny and exciting. While it is certainly a comedy first, it is also a good action-thriller.

All in all, This Is the End is a marvelous comedy that is engaging as an action-thriller and riotously funny. However, again, liking and being aware of these actors and their past work is probably essential to maximizing the enjoyment of this film.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen have written some very funny stuff in the past (Superbad and Pineapple Express), but This Is the End clearly shows that they have a talent for directing comedy as well. The film has sort of a loose documentary style, fitting the premise, and Goldberg and Rogen often just let the camera linger on the actors allowing them to perform (and be funny). In addition to getting the pacing right (which is probably the hardest part of feature narrative filmmaking), they also find the right tone for the film – completely ridiculous, keeping things funny, while still with a constant feeling of impending thrills. In this way, it works much like a horror film. The audience is constantly expecting something frightening to jump out or a character to suddenly and gruesomely be killed. The audience is laughing, but on their toes – a great combination.

Henry Jackman’s score works well, underlining the tone and emphasizing the apocalyptic aspects, but it is the film’s brilliant soundtrack to steals the show. Goldberg and Rogen seem to find the perfect song to fit each moment (they probably spent as much acquiring the rights to use all the great and fitting songs as on the rest of the film itself, and it pays off). Brandon Trost’s cinematography also fits the tone well. His lighting creates a heightened, darker reality – an atmosphere for the crumbling of society that looks gritty and stylized. By the end of the film, LA basically looks like how we might imagine Hell. Chris Spellman’s production design is strong too. His set for James Franco’s house is great, as it works both as a joke on Franco and as the perfect bunker for a catastrophe. I also loved the juxtaposition of the neighbor’s house that the characters enter later. It is so neat and polished in comparison.

While the story is fresh and original and the soundtrack is great, the cast really makes the film. This Is the End features small supporting work from tons of great comedians (all of whom have worked on Apatow projects in the past – many from as far back as Freaks and Geeks and/or Undeclared). And, there are some fun cameos. Michael Cera (who is rambunctiously silly) and Emma Watson (who seems to be having a blast) are both good in their supporting roles. However, most of the film is spent with its six stars. Danny McBride is so much fun, as he exudes misguided swagger and mischievousness. Jonah Hill plays himself as someone who just wants everyone to like him and think he is cool, coming off like a complete tool. Craig Robinson is brilliant playing himself as being insecure and lovable. James Franco is very funny, as he plays off his own lore. He is also not afraid to make himself out to be ridiculous (much like McBride). Jay Baruchel does a good job as well playing the outsider, which also works in bringing the audience into the story. To some extent, he plays their perspective in the film. And finally, Seth Rogen is good as well. He is the element that brings all these characters together and is the peacemaker, but also secretly selfish and not a hero.

Summary & score: This Is the End is something fresh in a genre that has become complacent and boring. It strives to be something different and bonkers (much like The Cabin in the Woods), and it achieves it in all the right ways. 8/10  

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