The problem with modern-day comedies, at least how I see it, is that they function much less as films and more as springboards for jokes and sight-gags for (hopefully) funny writers to unleash on their audience in the hopes that some of it is funny. Sure, it’s important to laugh, but the audience needs something to attach themselves to. I’m reminded of the film Get Him to The Greek starring Jonah Hill and Russell Brand, a very funny movie that ultimately tapers out by the last act, which many of these comedies seem to do. The film does not ground itself upon the relationship between the two protagonists and its ending feels unearned. This is why This is The End works as well as it does. The film, above all else, is really about the friendship between Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel and maintaining that friendship even in the face of apocalypse.
But that friendship is tested with Rogen’s increasing rise to fame, causing him to accept the Hollywood lifestyle. This is much to the chagrin of Baruchel who absolutely hates Los Angeles, and disapproves of the group of friends that Rogen now attaches himself to: Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and James Franco. Admittedly, the film’s first act is very much the indulgent set-piece that many have accused it of being as Franco hosts a house-party that functions little more than an excuse to goof on a bunch of celebrities. But it’s fun and feels like a joke the audience is invited to enjoy, watching them either play up their personalities or, in the case of a coke-bingeing Michael Cera, completely eviscerate it. Of course, bad shit happens, a lot of celebrities die, and Baruchel, Rogen, Hill, and Robinson hole up in Franco’s mansion determined to wait for help.
Thinking about it now, it’s amazing that the film remains as engaging as it does considering how much time it spends on these comedians riffing on one another. It can be distracting when a movie star can’t pull off disappearing in their role, and TiTE is entirely about the audience perspectives of these real-life actors; but–it feels weird of me to say this–I completely was able to forget about the “real” Seth Rogen and enjoy his cinematic version. Though, I’ve never met the man so who knows what’s real or not? Either way, knowing who these people were never felt like a barrier towards enjoying the movie, but if there is a black-sheep of the group it’s clearly Franco for the reasons I described above. It’s not his fault, and he certainly works well with the material given. It’s just that Franco is very much a personality in his own right, and whereas Rogen and the others fit right at home here, I couldn’t get past the idea that Franco is doing more than merely playing a more comedic version of himself.
But the true star is Danny McBride, a raging asshole who crashes Franco’s party and is found passed out in the bathroom during the ongoing carnage. He proceeds to spend every moment insulting the rest of the cast and generally being loud and abrasive. He’s also the funniest thing in the film, lining up vulgarities with rapid-fire accuracy. The film may deem him a fool, and in the eyes of the rest of the cast he most certainly is, but it’s that patented McBride swagger that lets him get away with playing an irredeemable bastard.
But that last-act curse I was talking about isn’t a problem with This is The End. Because while the film certainly focuses on making jokes, it takes its time to set up character development, which is redeemed when the film culminates into a full out biblical apocalypse filled with four-legged beasts and gigantic demons. The film got weirder, but I actually cared about each character and hoped that they’d all make it out alive.
This is The End is the best kind of comedy: a raunchy ride that revels in low-brow humor, but never feels actively mean-spirited. It contains the kind of warmth that’s to be expected from the best of Judd Apatow’s collection of comedies. Apatow may not have his paws on this film, but his influence is very much felt within his usual entourage featuring writers Rogen and Evan Goldberg (SuperBad, Knocked Up). I’d easily admit it as one of the better movies of last year.