Directed by: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen.
Written by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg based on the short film by Jason Stone.
Starring (As Themselves): James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rihanna, Martin Starr, Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari.
Walking into This is the End, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The movie has all the trappings of a vanity project – with Seth Rogen co-writing, co-directing and co-starring as himself, along with all his rich, cool Hollywood friends, also playing themselves. This sort of things either works amazingly well – or falls completely flat. You can either come off as a good sport, willing to poke fun of yourself and your image, or as an ego-maniac who thinks the world revolves around you. What is great about This is the End is that the movie pretty much does both. No one can say that the actors playing themselves aren’t willing to poke fun of themselves and their images – yet, yes, they are also self-centered, rich, spoiled and entitled. That’s part of the joke. And for the most part Rogen and company pull it off.
The movie opens with Jay Baruchel coming in from Canada to see his old friend Rogen. After a quick stop at Carl’s Jr., and smoking a ton of weed, the two friends head to James Franco’s new house for a party. Baruchel doesn’t want to go – he isn’t as famous as the rest of the people, doesn’t live in L.A., and just wants to hang out with his Canadian buddy Rogen – but, begrudgingly, he goes along. The house party is an exaggerated version of what we expect when a bunch of rich actors get together – with Michael Cera snorting way too much coke and getting handsy with Rihanna, along with many other markings of sex and drugs we associate with Hollywood – and a lot of bitching by rich people complaining about their jobs, while James Franco brags about how he designed the house himself (of course he did – is there anything he doesn’t do), and then going on a pretentious rant about the nature of art. Jonah Hill, who has come across as more and more of an asshole in recent interviews, here plays the most kindly guy in the world – he’s all hugs and smiles, and stories about the incontinent spaniel he just adopted – he’s impossible to hate, which is precisely why Baruchel hates him so damn much. Craig Robinson, who has always seemed like the nicest guy in the world, pretty much is.
And then the earth opens up, and most of the celebrities are sucked into a giant sinkhole. With only five of them left – Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Hill and Robinson – they decide not to worry too much about it. As Hill says, when they start rescuing people, they’ll obviously come from the actors first. But, of course, this is no ordinary Earthquake – it’s the Apocalypse – and these five have been left below, because, of course, they’re all selfish assholes, so why would God bring them to heaven? They bicker and fight, and try to survive in Franco’s mansion – which becomes harder when Danny McBride shows up, because as we all know, Danny McBride is such a huge asshole, that even these assholes can’t stand him.
At its best, This is The End is the funniest comedy of the year so far – and one of the most purely enjoyable films. The opening half hour or so is brilliant and provided more laughs than any other Hollywood comedy this year in its entirety. From there, the movie is more hit or miss – with some brilliant comic set pieces, alongside some less inspired scenes. Like the films Judd Apatow, who Rogen and Goldberg obviously studied under, This is the End could have used a little more editing to tighten the movie up (unlike Apatow however, the movie is only an hour and forty-five minutes, not two and half, so it’s not as noticeable as This is 40). Still, just when you think the movie has run out of steam, it gets another jolt – the moment when a non-famous intruder sticks his head in the house, the return of Emma Watson, the confessionals shot on the camera from 127 Hours, an absurdly long argument between Franco and McBride about masturbation, a possessed Hill, still wise cracking – that gets the movie going again, and keeps you laughing. The movie may have better at 90 minutes, but even at 107 minutes, it’s still hilarious for most it.
The key, of course, is the performances and all of the actors are more than game in sending up themselves (and there are some great cameos, that I didn’t list in the cast list above that are even more game than the stars). Rogen and Goldberg’s script gives them all room to play, and they have fun with it. Despite what many think, it’s not that easy to play yourself, especially when in a movie like this, you’re not really playing yourself – you’re playing the image people have of you. Rogen and Goldberg prove they’re good with actors in getting the best out of them. Visually, the film leaves something to be desired – but there is a charm to the crude special effects that work in a comedy like this, that wouldn’t in a blockbuster.
So yes, This is the End is “inside baseball” as they say. It’s is an ego stroke to the stars in it. But it’s also a wonderful send up of them. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies in quite a while.