This is the End is some of the most fun you’re likely to have in a cinema during the 2013 summer season. Masterminded by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express), it’s a big cinematic house party, with an apocalyptic end-of-the-world scenario being moulded into an uproarious ride featuring a slew of famous faces playing exaggerated versions of themselves. If you enjoy the Judd Apatow brand of R-rated comedy, This is the End is a godsend, one of the most flat-out hilarious American comedies in recent memory which also has messages and a heart at its core. Efficiently shot for a modest $32 million, it’s clear that Goldberg and Rogen were smart in their construction of the film, using special effects only when necessary and never letting star egos get in the way of creating a meta, self-effacing ride.
Although he hates the city, actor Jay Baruchel flies into Los Angeles to visit his old friend Seth Rogen. Growing apart due to Seth’s L.A. lifestyle and affluent new circle of friends, Jay hopes to reconnect with his pal for a weekend of weed and booze-fuelled shenanigans. But Seth is insistent that the pair attend a party at James Franco’s house, much to Jay’s reluctance. Unfortunately, the apocalypse hits during the evening, resulting in the deaths of several party guests. Franco battens down the hatches, leaving a motely crew of actors inside, including Seth, Jay, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson, though they’re soon joined by a very mischievous Danny McBride. Hoping that they’ll eventually be saved, the guys remain inside Franco’s mansion, rationing food and recording video diaries using the camera from 127 Hours.
The directorial debut for Rogen and Goldberg, This is the End was inspired by the unreleased 2007 short Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse. A lot of the movie’s charm is derived from the array of famous faces who appear here, including Rihanna, Emma Watson and Michael Cera. If none of the main actors here are familiar to you, and if you haven’t seen of the comedies they’ve featured in (Your Highness, Pineapple Express), there’s a good chance that This is the End will not work for you, as a lot of humour is derived from seeing the actors playing hilarious alternate versions of themselves (Cera goes completely against his onscreen persona as a coke-snorting ladies man). Also amusing are the various references to the actors’ bodies of work; career choices are ridiculed and personalities are prodded. Best of all, while the marketing materials for This is the End are hilarious, the trailers did not spoil all of the strongest gags, lines or scenes.
In terms of tone and construction, This is the End is somewhat reminiscent of the likes of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The movie is a side-splitting ride, to be sure, full of improvised dialogue, vulgar banter and a smattering of toilet humour, but Goldberg and Rogen steer the ship with skill, allowing the film to work as an apocalypse story as well as a comedy. Regardless of the light-hearted tone, the fates of the characters are still taken rather seriously, and the narrative is solid, never devolving into the mindlessness of Scary Movie or Epic Movie. Moreover, Goldberg and Rogen keep the film on a tight leash, never letting indulgent improvisation or dumb jokes affect the film’s momentum, and at no point losing sight of the big picture. Not to mention, the technical aspects of the production are indeed laudable; for a comedy, the cinematography by Brandon Trost is unusually strong in terms of composition, while the scattered visual effects sequences are terrific, especially the climax which also boasts marvellous creature design. Surprisingly, This is the End has a degree of depth to it, as well; it’s a weirdly sweet and insightful farce about friendship and loyalty, and there are messages about the importance of being a nice guy. It’s nothing too substantial, but the effort is appreciated.
Acting contributions right down the line are sound, with the actors clearing embracing the chance to openly make fun of themselves. By playing himself here, Rogen is essentially admitting that he’s the same person in all of his films. Rogen knows his strengths and plays to them, delivering a performance with spot-on comedic timing and delivery. The scene-stealer, though, is McBride, who’s smartly used as a supporting presence. McBride delivers lines guaranteed to bring the house down, and a late scene involving a celebrity cameo (which cannot be spoiled) is one of the funniest film moments you’re likely to see this year. Franco and Baruchel are in fine form as well, while Hill is astonishingly tolerable as a hilariously “soft and gentle” version of himself. Robinson is brilliant too, yet again demonstrating his wonderful gift for comedy. Goldberg and Rogen reportedly aimed to push the envelope so far that all the actors would feel uncomfortable doing something, and they managed to break everyone…except for the extraordinarily game Franco. Luckily, all of the stars get a number of memorable moments to shine, and there are also great contributions from the likes of Watson and Cera.
Admittedly, This is the End does feel a bit long in the tooth at 105 minutes, and probably could’ve been trimmed down to a more serviceable 90 minutes, but this is nit-picking. When it comes to a movie like this, its value comes down to the question of how often you laugh. In this case, I laughed a lot, and haven’t been this entertained in a cinema since 2012’s Ted. If you don’t like this brand of humour, that’s your prerogative, but if you enjoy raucous, vulgar, vehemently R-rated comedy, This is the End is definitely for you. It’s the type of motion picture that invites you to party right alongside the cast, and it’s arguably the best thing that Goldberg and Rogen have done to date.