Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
June 2013

This is the End

Celebrity judgment day

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg put their sensibilities to great use in the messy but wildly inventive apocalyptic comedy, 'This is the End'

This is the End
Columbia Pictures
Director: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Screenplay: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, based on a 2007 short film Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse, by Jason Stone
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and Emma Watson
Rated R / 1 hour, 47 minutes
June 12, 2013
(out of four)

A few years ago, the suggestion was floated that the long-rumored third entry in the Ghostbusters series would center around a new, younger cast culled from the Judd Apatow stable of comedy actors. Whether or not that idea was ever actually entertained, the project never came to pass (probably for the best) (sorry, Dan Aykroyd), but in This is the End we get a slight glimpse of what a Seth Rogen-and-pals version may have looked like. (Although most likely without all the bodily fluids, drugs and swinging demon penises.)

At the very least, the guys seem to have gotten it out of their system, because this movie has Ghostbusters DNA (among other influences) all over it, from the cartoonish apocalypse down to the creature design. It is very much a movie with an identity of its own - in fact, at times a couple of competing identities - but it's also consciously taking the mantle from a certain type of farcical supernatural fantasy we don't see much anymore, and blending it with the raunchy sensibilities and meta-humor of the last decade of American comedy.

While sometimes weighted down by its own ambition and not always sophisticated in handling action, This is the End is still, on the whole, a delightful, often-hysterical hybrid, as much a pleasure for the way it (self-lovingly) ridicules self-important celebrity culture as it is for the way it riffs on the movies that inspired it. This is a film that confidently parodies iconic sequences from the likes of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist while going all-in with an explicitly Biblical end-of-the-world scenario.

It also belongs to a classic Hollywood tradition of films driven primarily by the personalities of their stars, a formula made self-referentially literal in this case as everyone in the cast plays a fictional version of him- or herself. It all centers around Rogen - who makes his directing debut along with his writing partner Evan Goldberg - and a supporting cast of his frequent collaborators, notably Jay Baruchel (Knocked Up, Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse), James Franco (Pineapple Express, Freaks and Geeks), Jonah Hill (Superbad, Knocked Up), Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Observe and Report) and Craig Robinson (Pineapple Express, Knocked Up). (And that's only scratching the surface. A Venn diagram of these actors' careers would have a lot of overlap.)

Looking back, this seems like a more polished version of this crew's unsuccessful experiments from the last few years - like a more inspired version of some of the half-baked ideas in last year's The Watch (which Rogen and Goldberg co-wrote) and the mostly awful Franco/McBride-starrer Your Highness (which was directed by Pineapple Express' David Gordon Green).

Rogen* begins the film with a self-effacing joke, as he's accosted at the airport by a paparazzo who insists that he just plays the same character - a thinly veiled version of himself - in every movie. The film proceeds to highlight that very persona while offering more absurd versions of everyone else, in the process sending up everything from the old James Franco gay rumors to Michael Cera's nice-guy image.

* Rogen hasn't had the box-office success in recent years that he had in the middle of the last decade, and he has one particularly notorious failure, 2011's The Green Hornet, which he wrote and starred in. But in that time he's done some really strong work in dramedies - Funny People, Take This Waltz, 50/50 - in addition to an impressively committed, astonishingly dark performance in Jody Hill's black comedy Observe and Report. He remains a severely underappreciated actor, and I hope This is the End bumps up his stock a bit.

Most of the action takes place at Franco's newly refurbished mansion, where he's hosting a house party for all of his celebrity friends. Rogen drags along his best friend Jay (Baruchel), who's in town from Canada for a few days but doesn't much feel like going to a party. Largely because of ongoing tension with Jonah Hill, who overcompensates for his irrational hatred of Jay by being unreasonably nice to him.

Franco himself is a parody of his public persona, an art-obsessed renaissance man and stoner who fosters a barely concealed man-crush on Rogen and seemingly deep-seated resentment of Danny McBride*, who he refuses to invite to his party but who shows up anyway. Cera, meanwhile, is a coked-out, would-be ladies' man who gets on everyone's nerves. And finally there's Craig Robinson, the life of the party and alpha male, who turns into quite the sensitive soul once the Rapture suddenly brings the house party to a screeching halt.

* It must be noted that McBride has not one, but TWO of the best entrances in any movie this year.

At first there's only panic, as those remaining at Chez Franco board up the windows and doors with anything they can find, and quickly make an inventory of their remaining resources. From there, the film shifts into a casual hang-out mode, as Rogen, Franco and Co. pass the time getting high, napping, and - of course - filming a homemade sequel to Pineapple Express.

The filmmakers do a really nice job letting the story continually unwind and shift gears; it never gets stuck doing one thing. The character dynamics are constantly changing, but only in ways that reflect the ridiculous characterizations of each character. Plot developments range from the forced entry of an axe-wielding Emma Watson, to the in-house decapitation of a next-door neighbor (and the subsequent kicking-around of his head), to petty arguments about where a certain bodily fluid does or does not belong, to demonic possession, rescue missions and cannibalism. As first-time directors, Rogen and Goldberg aren't always smooth in their execution, but they do let their collective imagination run wild, often into the filthiest or most fantastical territory they can come up with.

There's obviously a certain in-joke quality to This is the End, with Rogen, Franco and all of their showbiz buddies getting together for a self-referential celebration of themselves. But this isn't an insular film; rather, Rogen and Co. are directly inviting us to be a part of the joke. The meta-comedy isn't where the story ends; it's all in the service of a raucous, absurdist stoner fantasy that offers more creativity in its depiction of the apocalypse than any number of like-minded films with 10 times the budget.


Read more by Chris Bellamy


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