Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
Written by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and Jason Stone
Starring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and others
People are fascinated by the apocalypse because we all see ourselves as the hero of the story. We talk about how we’d pull out our magical arsenal and defeat the zombies (or other creature) in a hail of gunfire, standing tough and proud in an artistically dirt-smeared tank top. Most apocalyptic fiction tends to fulfill that fantasy nicely.
The secret genius of “This is the End” is that it spits in the fantasy’s face.
The new movie, starting Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and a who’s who of modern stoner comedy, is a filthy, sweet and unbelievably hilarious look at how most of us would muddle through the end of the world. Our heroes are shallow, clueless, petty and surprisingly understandable, giving even the most off-the-wall gross-out jokes a frisson of horrified understanding. Somehow, it makes them that much funnier.
The movie starts as a low-key buddy comedy, with all the actors playing a somewhat fictionalized version of themselves. Some are incredibly over the top – I genuinely don’t know how Michael Cera fans will feel about this movie – but others are close enough that the actors real friendships and movie credits are tossed around like they’re common knowledge. A host of random other stars appear, presumably found via the address books of the leads.
Here, Baruchel is the audience stand-in, the actor’s inherent awkwardness perfect for a man trapped in a situation he doesn’t like but is beyond his control. Yes, it’s a terrible party rather than a sea of flames and growling demons, but the transition from one to the other is surprisingly smooth. When the ground starts shaking and rapture lights shoot out of the sky, it’s just one more thing trying to make his life miserable.
The group of reluctant friends, including James Franco, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson, are trapped together in Franco’s house as they deal with problems like low supplies and whether or not to let in other survivors.
The jokes and sight gags fly thick and fast, not one of which can be printed in a family paper. In fact, they’re a few levels beyond that, to the point where your grandmother would probably slap you if she even knew you’d heard them. Kids, or even younger teenagers, should probably not be allowed anywhere near the theater. The fact that the movie includes Biblical references, not used as jokes, just makes the whole thing that much more surreal.
The most shocking thing, though, is how hilarious the movie is. I don’t normally like either gross-out or stoner comedy, and yet I found myself collapsed with helpless laughter at several points throughout the movie.
Beneath all the demons and gay jokes, the real beating heart of “This is the End” is the friendship between Rogen and Baruchel. They may not be able to save the world, but the two men want badly to save their heavily cracked friendship.
In the end, that kind of victory is maybe all we need.