Synopsis: While attending a party at James Franco’s house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.
2013 seems to be the year of the ensemble cast apocalypse movie, with The World’s End, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s third and final instalment in the Cornetto Trilogy, coming out later this month.
As a once fan of Rogen, Cera et al I have recently become tired of their same old schtick. With Rogen I think it is a case of over exposure. With Cera it is only being able to see him look like a scared mumbling bird so many times. With Danny McBride it is the same yet opposite problem to Cera. James Franco on the other hand I find endlessly entertaining and watchable.
So spending 90 minutes watching them play versions of themselves was going to be a make or break moment for me and the second tier Apatow crew.
The directorial debut of writing duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, This Is The End is a weird alternative parody of the social dynamics of Rogen and his celebrity buddies James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride. After Jay Baruchel comes back to LA for a relaxing weekend of smoking weed and playing video games he is reluctantly taken to James Franco’s celebrity packed house warming party. For someone who specifically avoids LA and the celebrity lifestyle it is his idea of hell. If that weren’t stressful enough the Apocalypse strikes midway through forcing them all to fight for survival in Franco’s post-modern mansion.
The benefit of using close friends is Rogen and Goldberg convince them all to play up to their own celebrity personas brilliantly. Franco is all about modern art, particular foods and being a big nerd. Hill is a post Oscar nominated camp diva. Danny McBride is….well, he’s pretty much what you would expect of McBride. And not to be outdone Rogen wastes no time in taking a swipe at himself in the opening 2 minutes with comments on his annoying laugh, and being on a gluten free diet without knowing what gluten is.
Rogen and Goldberg’s script could be seen cynically as an excuse for a bunch of rich friends to get together, show off how famous they are by getting a load of other famous people to cameo and dick around on $35m of someone else’s money. In actual fact This Is The End is, for all it’s machine gun swearing and dick jokes, a clever self referential look at celebrity diva culture. It is The Player filtered through a David Zucker script and thick cloud of weed smoke. A lot of weed smoke.
While there is a spot the cameo game in This Is The End, the majority take place during the scene’s at James Franco’s house prior to the crisis striking. Of all of them Michael Cera’s has gained the most attention for his self portrayal of a coke addled, obnoxious loud mouth. One facial expression in a toilet scene is worth the ticket price alone. To the credit of Rogen and Goldberg though they let the audience have some fun seeing how many famous people they can recognise before it becomes old and self indulgent. The majority of the film then focuses on how, for all their money and fame, in a crisis all they have is each other.
The central emotional arc exists between Baruchel and Rogen and how they have grown apart as Rogen has gotten more and more famous. For anyone who has had a life long friend where you have taken divergent paths in life, it’s easy to empathise with their conflict. Albeit difficult to sympathise given their conflict is played out against a backdrop of wealth and privilege. A fact not lost on the cast as Craig Robinson delivers with absolute deadpan faux-sincerity “people don’t know how hard we work. Pretending it’s hot when it’s cold”.
Around 50% of the film is ad-libbed and while it is at times laugh out loud funny there are plenty of moments when Rogen and Goldberg should have seen a joke running on too long and shouted cut. The majority of the fun and laughs are in the first half when they have the most fun sending themselves and each other up. There is a brilliant Be Kind Rewind moment when they decide to make Pineapple Express 2 on a home video amongst the rubble and carnage of their post modern Beverly Hills prison. Emma Watson also shows she can swear with the best of them as she robs them of their supplies at axe point.
It does lose momentum halfway through though and at times swerves into Scary Movie territory. There is also only so much celebrity bickering you can take before you want it to move towards a conclusion. Rogen and Baruchel have been honest in saying that as well as being fun to make a lot of the arguments and discussions were cathartic, giving them an excuse and vehicle for getting things of their chests. So much so that at times Rogen had to remind the cast they were actually friends and liked each other when ad-libbed insult exchanges got a bit too real. That’s great for them but at times it kills the comic momentum the film has been building.
And while the ending does feel like a fitting conclusion to the preceding 90 minutes Rogen and Goldberg lose a point by undoing much of their good work in the last 60 seconds with an ill fitting and entirely cynical cameo appearance that is played for retro cool, but just feels like a horribly shoe horned commercial decision to give someone some free publicity. Like human product placement.
All in all though Rogen and his band of merry men deliver on a solid comedy that has enough laughs and pokes enough fun at itself to carry the weaker moments. By the end of the month we’ll able to compare it in earnest to its British apocalyptic counterpart The World’s End. Let’s hope this isn’t all a forecast for terrible events to come.
Conclusion: What could have been a horribly self indulgent exercise in celebrities using movies as an excuse to have incredibly expensive parties and then charging us to watch, is actually a smart and self effacing, if at times patchy and misguided, look at celebrities surviving outside their privileged bubbles and the ever changing nature of friendship.
Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, David Krumholtz, Emma Watson, Mindy Kaling