Saturday, July 6, 2013

"This is the End" Has Laughs and Heart in Equal Measure

I'm not a big fan of comedy films.  Sure, I love comedy in a 22 minute, weekly form on television, but I find that it's hard to sustain laughs for 90+ minutes.  Eventually, fatigue sets in -- on the part of the film, myself, or both -- and story/structure demands bog down the actual funny.  It certainly doesn't help that film seems to be much less fertile ground for producing critically acclaimed comedies than television, but even some of the ones that the rest of my generation hails as classics, like Anchorman or The Hangover, are okay at best in my eyes.  The comedies that I do tend to latch on to usually have something else going on besides getting the biggest and quickest laugh, relying on character depth and story to push things forward.  That's why I respond so strongly to Judd Apatow films, because even when some of his films go for long stretches without a laugh (I'm looking at you, Funny People), it's always about three-dimensional characters struggling through something, which I'll always find more compelling than an intricately wound up joke machine.  It's taken me a while to get around to it, but I've finally seen This is the End, and I can safely say that it falls into the former category, managing to be a success simply because of how much it has to offer.

In some ways, what I find this movie to be most similar to is the films of Edgar Wright, which use genre not just as an opportunity to do parody, but also as a framework around which to structure an actual story.  This is the End is a film about the apocalypse, and it could've easily just coasted by on 100 minutes of ironic winking, but the film doesn't take its premise lightly.  In a movie full of surprises, perhaps the biggest one was how far Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg decided to take the story.  Yet even with its commitment to the apocalypse, it's not a bleak Lars von Trier type of film.  There's such a perfectly balanced tone to the whole thing -- it's hilarious despite the circumstances, but the weighty moments still land.  Additionally, the film also manages to avoid fatigue due to the sheer variety of comedy that it delivers.  It's hard to get tired of any style of joke when the film juggles gross-out humor, surreal comedy, improvised looseness, and physical bits effortlessly.  And for being a comedy, This is the End is also a genuinely thrilling, suspenseful, and exciting film.

What holds the entire movie together, however, is the character work.  In a recent appearance on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast, Seth Rogen said that one of the biggest things he learned from Judd Apatow was to always root your comedy in the stories of the characters, and he definitely makes use of that lesson here.  As is the case with all of Rogen and Goldberg's films, this story is primarily about exploring male friendships, but this is the best they've ever done it.  Seth and Jay Baruchel's relationship feels so relateable, and the conflict that arises from them drifting apart is some of the most gripping stuff in the movie.  After all, we each have probably found ourselves in their characters' positions, whether we're the ones having difficulty fitting in with the new friends of a longtime friend or if we're the ones trying to blend two groups of friends together.  The actors are all playing themselves, which helps the audience bring alot of information to the relationships, but they're smartly skewed versions, allowing for some great use of comedic exaggeration.  As much as the Rogen/Baruchel relationship holds the film together, the entire group dynamic is so well-constructed, and many of the biggest laughs come from all of them bouncing off of each other.  From Jonah Hill's earring-sporting obsequiousness to the libertine Danny McBride, everyone has a consistency that makes all of their actions logical, but still slightly unexpected.  

The biggest problem with most comedies is that they fall apart in the third act.  Many films devote so much of their attention to wrapping up the story that the laughs begin to die away, giving the whole thing a lumpy and logy feel.  This one threatens to fly completely off the rails multiple times near the end, but not in the same way that most comedies do.  Instead of not having enough, the ending of This is the End almost has too much going on.  It's a mess for sure, veering all over the place in search of a conclusion, but I couldn't help thinking "Yeah this is a mess, but I don't care because it's so much fun!"  Not only that, but I was surprised by how moved I ended up being.  It's about the entire world ending (or just L.A., which might as well be the same thing to these characters), yet the highest stakes come from Rogen and Baruchel's friendship.  The final scene is goofy, but it's also one of the most joyous things I've seen on the big screen all year.  In a way, that's This is the End in a nutshell: silly, but never straying far from the emotions that ground it.

1 comment:

  1. I saw this a little while back and I personally felt that the party at the beginning, and the subsequent mass cataclysm that followed it were the best parts of the movie.

    Everything after Emma Watson makes her second cameo started to devolve for me, especially in the humor department (I'm looking at you, roughly 5 minute long masturbation yelling scene), and while there were definite pickups throughout (such as the cannibals), it failed to live up to those first moments for me.

    Still good, but not as great as it could have been; although I do agree with you on the character work, even if some of it was a little hokey.