Friday, October 4, 2013

This Is the End: Bropocalypse Now

This Is the End
2013, US
Written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

The one thing I couldn't stop thinking about after watching This Is the End, the apocalypse comedy from writers/directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, was "How would this movie play to an audience who doesn't know these stars and their personas?" This isn't to say that the "characters" played by core cast members Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and James Franco don't come through—they play fictionalized versions of themselves, each with salient parts of their star images either played up, subverted, or inverted, and each is well-established over the course of the film. I just couldn't help but wonder what a person not enmeshed in today's American pop culture climate would think of this film, whether they would miss anything or see through character/narrative shortcuts we might miss due to our familiarity. I wonder whether the specificity of the stars, their cameoing friends, and their milieu will ultimately limit This Is the End's future replayability, like some of the awful " [X] Movie" parodies, or if that won't matter in the same way that we can watch classic ensemble comedies or non-domestic films without getting all of their points of reference. This isn't to say that This Is the End is either as good as those classics or as bad as Epic Movie and its ilk, only that this is the frame of mind it left me in.

The film's plot is fairly simple. The socially-awkward Baruchel flies into LA to repair his somewhat-strained relationship with Rogen, who instead takes him to the sort of celeb-filled party—Franco's housewarming 'do— that he despises. During the party, the Rapture happens (hilariously sparing NONE of the party's guests), and the biblical Apocalypse begins with hellfire, sinkholes, and earthquakes. Almost everyone dies, and the survivors band together in Franco's mansion, hoarding their comestibles and drugs and working out their personal issues in the midst of scarcity, terror, and demons.

For a first directorial feature, Goldberg and Rogen do well capturing both the hellscape of LA and the more intimate character beats. They have a flair for silly action, as demonstrated in an early sequence involving Baruchel and Rogen scrambling home through a chaotic post-rapture Hollywood. Clearly, Rogen and Goldberg have learned from their friends: there are elements of Edgar Wright's style and playful tone, here, as well as Jody Hill and David Gordon Green (the latter of whom directed Pineapple Express, a frequent reference point). References to other works abound—riffs on Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist both factor into one plot line—and most of the star cameos are hilarious (even if the first quarter of the film, which dispenses with most of the rest of the world, is its most jumbled and least effective).

Still, your enjoyment of the film will depend largely on your tolerance for the laddish comedy found in the actors' prior bodies of work—once again continuing this week's inadvertently masculine trend here on the blog. Obviously, there's a good amount of drug humor, coupled with multiple gross-out sequences of gore and/or bodily fluids (the gore is well-deployed, the toilet humor less so). The language is crude and frequently hilarious, with everything from male titty-fucking, sharts and errant ejaculate coming into play. The characterizations are all enjoyable riffs on established personalities, with Jonah Hill's faux-nice guy and Michael Cera's awful douchebag getting the most self-parody in. McBride basically plays Eastbound and Down's Kenny Powers without the baseball, as is his wont, and Franco riffs on his flaky, artsy persona to good effect.

On some level I suspect the audience is supposed to identify with or want to hang out with these guys, even as their intentional pettiness—again, they were left behind by the rapture—makes them unbearable. My distance from (and dislike for) the partying/boozing/pothead lifestyles leaves me at a disadvantage in terms of identification, and I certainly questioned the taste and necessity of some sequences, but on the whole, the film works surprisingly well. Questions about its insular self-regard and potential disposability remain, and its emotional depth is shallower and more boilerplate than I'd like, but even with its flaws and undeniably masculine perspective, there's no doubt This Is the End is funnier and more entertaining than most Hollywood comedies. It won't change the minds of non-fans, but that's not who Rogen and Goldberg made it for. They've made the film they wanted to make, and I have no doubt it's the film their fans wanted to see.

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