It’s rare that I go and see a comedy movie with any expectations these days; in fact, it’s unusual for me to actually see a comedy at the cinema anymore. Maybe it’s because the comedy world is such a fractured and subjective place, maybe because studios are unwilling to take big risks, but my favourite comedy moments of the last ten years have come from TV or from movies that slipped under the radar, were released without any fanfare and found their audience on DVD (say Anchorman or Shaun of the Dead). I see This Is The End as an exception then, a heavily publicised film, released right in the middle of blockbuster season, with heavy weight stars – so I went in with expectations and, thankfully, I didn’t come out disappointed.
The film focuses on the relationship between Jay Baruchel and his old friend Seth Rogan, who he’s visiting in LA. They end up attending a party at James Franco’s house, a party filled with a slew of celebrities like Rihanna, Michael Cera, Emma Watson and Jason Segel. But in the middle of the party the rapture happens, with fire reigning down from the sky and the earth opening up beneath them. Franco, Baruchel, Rogan, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride are trapped in the house together, left to confront the end of the world, and more frighteningly, their own friendships.
Building on the tradition of celebrities sending up their own images in programmes like The Larry Sanders Show or Extras and Curb Your Enthusiasm, everyone involved is playing themselves, or at least a version of themselves. The movie drops you straight into its world, meaning that you make decisions on the characters based on your assumptions, assumptions you’ve made through other movies or their portrayal in the media. The movie then goes about subverting or confirming these assumptions, whichever is funnier in that moment.
The movie is very aware of itself, and the actors are very aware of how the audience perceive them, and are willing to explore that idea. The first joke sets the whole tone for the film, in which a paparazzo asks Seth Rogan why he play’s the same character in every movie. The willingness to self-deprecate, to show they understand why many people may have grown weary of them, is something these actors, especially Franco and Rogan, needed. It humanises them and eases the ability to relate.
This is all tied up with the movie’s skewering of celebrity culture and their lifestyles. Jay acts as our entry into this strange world, and there are big laughs from highlighting these guys’ ignorance and self-centredness, from exploring the idea of what would you actually do during the end of the world, and how these men are totally unprepared for anything. But the real core of the movie is how these six friends are forced to analyse their lives, their relationships with each other, and their realisation that the worst thing about the apocalypse is not the hell-fire or the devil, but being trapped in a house with themselves.
The movie does have problems – women play a tiny, and thanks to one scene some might argue controversial, role, and it does get weaker towards the end as the central group fragments (with one character sorely missed). But I was laughing pretty much the entire time, and in the end that’s the most important thing.
Big budget, big stars, big effects, but the biggest laughs come from the smaller moments in This Is The End, the best comedy of the year so far.
This Is The End opens in Australia July 18th.
THIS IS THE END
Directed by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Emma Watson
Released by: Columbia/Sony Pictures