Wednesday, June 5, 2013

‘This is the End’ (2013) directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

Just who do these Hollywood types think they are?  Surely it’s the ultimate in vanity to produce a blockbusting disaster film about your social scene, casting your friends as themselves and filling the script with in-jokes and references? This is the End reeks of  the worst kind of narcissistic exercise. But, dammit, it almost pains me admit it, but it’s also the funniest film I’ve seen in a very long time.

Here’s your high concept: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robertson and Danny McBride are stranded in Franco’s Hollywood mansion during the apocalypse.  This isn’t some puny tidal wave or Johnny come lately asteroid that’s wreaking havoc mind you, it’s the actual Biblical Day of Judgment. We’re talking Revelations here people.  The ‘good’ get sucked up into Heaven in blue beams of light.  The damned stay on earth.  Naturally, none of the celebrities ascend to heaven, and those left behind are faced with a smouldering, demon-populated hellscape.  This leaves the gang stranded inside James Franco’s house, their supplies of food and water dwindling and their friendships rapidly fraying.

This disaster survival template is the vehicle for what amounts to an apocalypse themed farce, the pampered celebrities actors prove utterly useless when it comes to survival, and indeed any aspect of the world ending at all.  Their stupidity, unpreparedness and shallow lifestyles are mocked at every opportunity, indeed, the very structure of the film defines their Hollywood lifestyle as intrinsically immoral.  Throughout we get different combinations of the group thrown into bizarre situations, fighting their devil-possessed friends, desperately trying to tunnel through the floor to find some water or viciously arguing over who jizzed all over the one porn magazine in the house.

You can probably infer from that last example that this isn’t the most family friendly of films,  and to be honest it’s pretty fascinating to see what you can get away in a 15 rated film these days.  The film is fantastically gory; characters get showered in puke and blood; a severed head is kicked around like a football and people are skewered through the chest.  In other scenes there’s piss drinking, cannibalism, rampant drug-taking and finally the most exquisitely rendered giant demon cock I’ve ever seen on screen.  It’s a cavalcade of bad taste, each bit of gross-out humour made funnier by the fact that these actors are essentially playing themselves.

Many of my favourite jokes here come from the skewering of these actors public images.  Seth Rogen gets made fun of for his limited acting range, Jonah Hill for his apparent niceness to everyone, Michael Cera turns his geeky goody two-shoes vulnerability on its head.   But my favourite among all these is James Franco, who is 100% ripe for parody.

Some day (hopefully far in the future) will come a time when James Franco does something to annoy me, a moment where the charisma and charm he exudes will wear off and I’ll find him irritating rather than loveable.  Thankfully, today is not that day.  The film takes unflinching aim at his artistic pretensions, mocking him a bit cruelly for his self-obsession and taste in art.  Prior to the apocalypse he’s prone to outstandingly pretentious statements like “You don’t like art?!  When you go to a sandwich shop and tell them how to make you a sandwich - that’s art!  When your Dad slips his dick between your mother’s legs - that’s art!”.  

His house, which the vast majority of the film takes place in, is stuffed with Franco memorabilia, props from his films, paintings about his career, the place is jam-packed with gaudy Shepard Fairy paintings and giant Clockwork Orange-esque sculptures of penises.  But even though the self appointed ‘Mayor of Gay Town’ plays himself as a materialistic hypocrite, it’s difficult not to warm to the guy.  He exudes charisma from every pore, becoming strangely loveable despite his obvious flaws.  

Emma Watson's in it too.
The likeableness of these characters is the crux of why This is the End works so well.  While never, ever taking itself seriously it still manages a proper emotional connection with the audience.  Underneath all the juvenile gags and teasing there’s a genuine sense of brotherhood and friendship among these guys.  Though they make fun of each other’s body of work throughout the film, these are all talented actors, and they absolutely sell the changing interpersonal dynamics.  When a big emotional moment happens; say when someone sacrifices themselves, or finds out that someone has betrayed them it actually works, and in between all the dick jokes we actually care about what happens to these people.

The comedy also dovetails quite nicely with the scarier aspects of the film.  To a large degree the shocks are played for laughs, but we’re rooting for these guys to survive, if only so they can continue entertaining us.  When the demons do arrive they’re genuinely unsettling CG creations that move with a jerky Harryhausen-like energy, bristling with cracked, volcanic skin and masses of teeth.  Clearly quite a bit of money was spent on getting these effects just right, which is a nice contrast given that the rest of the film doesn’t look like it cost that much to make.  That’s not to say it looks cheap, rather that with 90% of the film taking place in one location, and the outside being wreathed with mysterious smoke, big set pieces give way to semi-improvised comedy scenes.

But despite it being at times very scary and occasionally genuinely touching, this is a tightly focused comedy, it wants to make you laugh and dammit, you will laugh. In fact, the film achieves what it sets out to do so successfully that it reaches the credits without ever stumbling once.  There’s the odd joke that falls flat, but there are so many great gags that you’re bowled over by the tide and left a little dazzled by how much they’ve jammed in here.  I wasn’t expecting much, but this film blew me away.  

This is the End is on general release from June 28th

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1 Responses to “‘This is the End’ (2013) directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen”

Unknown said...
June 5, 2013 at 10:04 PM

when you are right, you are right!

this film rocks. just wish i had known more of the actors.... this will kill in 1 box office without a doubt

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