When Jay Baruchel visits Seth Rogan in Los Angeles, he ends up at James Franco’s house for a house warming party when the end of the world strikes. The three of them, along with Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson, must find a way to survive the Apocalypse.
Ghostbusters. Shawn of the Dead. Zombieland. All of these classic films must now move aside. This is the End, from directors Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, is the best damn horror-comedy in a good long time. Brilliantly simple, subtly complex, it may be more Budweiser Lime-a-Rita than a fine wine, but it still carries a deliriously effective punch. The film is likely to be labeled “dangerous to your health” as it may cause bodily harm from laughing so hard. At its core, the film is about the friendship between Jay and Seth, but it is flavored with broad parody, lampoon and satire with a sharp wit and precise timing. The cast takes advantage of their off-screen relationships (perceived, actual or otherwise) to draft an on-screen modern brat pack that is more reminiscent of rat pack of the Sixties – this is the Frat Pact, a fraternity of comedians where how to split up a single Milky Way is as funny as mountains of maryjane, booze and jokes about bodily fluids. What happens in This is the End is so insane and delirious, it is difficult to describe (without falling into uncontrollable giggles). But the film’s effect is not: a better time in the theater will be tough to run across this year. The film’s success is measured in how hard it is to catch your breath afterwards.
The film’s script begins with Jay Baruchel landing in Los Angeles to be greeted by his best bud, Seth Rogan. Their long friendship is being threatened by their slowly drifting apart as Seth’s new friends wedge in between them. Yes, it’s a “bromance” of the best kind. Seth convinces Jay to join him in going to the house warming party for James Franco’s new pad, but Jay is not too thrilled – mainly because he will have to deal with Jonah Hill. It seems the two of them do not get along. Once there, Jonah shamelessly tries to win over Jay while Craig Robinson sings a dirty ditty to Rihanna and Michael Cera shows his ass. But then the unthinkable happens, a giant earthquake shakes L.A. opening up the Earth around them. Disaster. Havok. Insanity. When everything settles down, Seth and Jay find themselves locked up in Franco’s house with Jonah, Craig and an uninvited Danny McBride. Relationships are strained, secrets are revealed and paranoia sets in. How can Seth and Jay’s friendship survive?
Based on a short film titled Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse, the idea is expanded to realize its fullest potential. Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogan are the leads of This is the End. It’s their story. They just have the greatest, funniest friends in cinema history. Ha! It is an accomplishment really, that Jay and Seth manage to reel the focus back to their relationship throughout all the drug-induced haze, end-of-the-world fantasy and insane hilarity. It allows the silly and preposterous events remain grounded despite how outrageous they become. It is less about will Jay and Craig get eaten by whatever the hell is in the smoke and more about will Jay survive so he and Seth can say they’re sorry and repair their friendship. Their friendship is authentically conveyed on screen. This may be the best performances from the both of them, maybe. Touching is not what was expected going into This is the End, not in the slightest. But there it is. And it gives the “funny” weight and buoyancy.
“Hermoine just stole all our shit” may be the single best example of the irreverence in This is the End when Danny McBride relays to a webcam that Emma Watson ran off with their water and rations. McBride is the closest thing this film has to an Antagonist and he is brilliant, far less annoying than he was in Your Highness and closer to his performance in Tropic Thunder. He gets the best entrance (twice!) and the best exit. He nearly steals the whole damn thing (with the help of a surprising guest cameo appearance). In a film where the actors are all playing cinematic versions of themselves, he takes the biggest risks with his own persona. And it pays off handsomely. Somebody has to be the bad guy and McBride is the perfect candidate to take up that mantle.
James Franco has often been accused of being stoned or under the influence in his features. Maybe it’s the squint of his eyes when he smiles or just the oddly proportioned size of his goofy, silly grin. Regardless, it all ends in debate. In This is the End, he is able to relish in that perception. Take it and run. Play on that stereotype and make the most of it. It works out wonderfully, especially when he teams up with other cast members. His enactment of Pineapple Express 2 with Rogan is a bizarre, strange highlight of the film – it is so joyfully odd. But nothing compares to his distrust that grows with McBride resulting in a gut busting confrontation between the two that is indescribable – at least, in print.
“The Exorcism of Jonah Hill” is a masterful interlude for the second act. Like McBride, Hill’s humor can easily be more annoying than funny, but This is the End allows for Hill’s humor and delivery to shine, especially when he gets to be uncontrollably smart-ass during this scene. He is literally tied to a bed facing all of other cast and he ends up being the funniest beat in the band. Right on! Earlier, he is given an opportunity to give a laugh-out-loud reaction to the webcam about a special visit received overnight. Reserved, the delivery is more about his expression and what he doesn’t say making it both uncomfortable and uproarious.
“Take Yo Panties Off” sings Craig Robinson is his slick, understated humor facing off Rhianna and Michael Cera. Robinson is somehow the most normal of the whole bunch. Who knew he would be the voice of reason when the time comes. He steals the party scenes early on. Well, no actually Michael Cera does that – sorry, Craig. Aside, from the hilarious cameo, Robinson owns the time he is on screen. He also gets one of the best scenes in the film when he gets the opportunity to face the horrors that lie outside Franco’s abode, practically staring down the devil to allow his friend’s escape. He is repaid for his sacrifice in laughter and in a great ending.
What makes the classic films mentioned earlier so successful and evergreen is that all the horror and humor is based on the characters, their friendships, their relationships. Peter Venkman has to grow up and save the world with his friends, Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler. Shawn realizes that Ed is more than an annoying friend, he is his best friend and the closest thing to family he has. Columbus sees through Tallahassee’s rough exterior to uncover the hero inside him, one who cares for him, Wichita and Little Rock whether he wants to admit it or not. This is the End is no different. Jay and Seth are a big part of the success of This is the End. But more than just that, there’s Seth’s relationship with Franco, Hill and Robinson. Beneath the slapstick and spectacle, it means something – friendship. The true plot is not too far off from “can their friendship survive the end of the world.” This is the End gets it right and the reward is glorious, magnificent comedic gold – and a few scares along the way. Best thing all year, quite possibly.
5 out of 5
This is the End (2013)