Written & Directed by Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen
The comedy film landscape has been dominated by the unique Apatow vulgarity/sincerity type, often with knockoffs of the real things springing up capitalizing on just one of the two essential elements that make this type of comedy work. Films like Knocked Up, Superbad, and Funny People have given the Freaks ample fame and have worked as a springboard for the troupe to bigger things. For instance James Franco and Jonah Hill are both now Academy Award nominated “persons”, as referenced in the latest raunchy comedy from the Apatow brethren, This is the End. All of the actors have moved on from their Freaks and Geeks days, but have they really grown up? As all of their comedies seem to always indicate, no, no they have not.
The film, penned and directed by longtime collaborators and friends Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is about as meta as it gets, self-referential to the point that if it were not for the outrageous plot, it might be misconstrued as a documentary. All the stars play themselves, as Canadian Jay Baruchel flies in to LA to visit his fellow Canuck buddy Seth, who has grown more distant since falling in with his Hollywood friends James Franco, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson. Seth and Jay decide to attend a party at Franco’s brand new house, but soon the Hollywood Hills catch fire, sinkholes open up, and a mysterious creature hunts their souls. Countless celebrities are casually discarded while the main group survives for now. The Apocalypse is nigh, but have their lives been good enough to warrant a pass into heaven?
This is the End has everything you would expect, and some more. If you thought that their past films have been raunchy and vulgar, think again. This time out they go above and beyond the call to shock with curse words and bloody props flung about with casual excess. For those who didn’t enjoy the type before, their sense of humor will not be piqued here either. But for most fans, more of the same can only mean more laughs; and it does have an excess of those as well. Goldberg/Rogen show a deft touch behind the camera, knowing how to push the boundaries just far enough to show us too much, while not being so over the top as to offend or lose the fans. They dial the shock up to 11, for sure, inching ever so close to 12 without quite going too far (though that opinion will have its detractors no doubt).
For all of the pot and penis jokes, the film is much less the stoner bro-comedy that we’ve seen with things like Pineapple Express (which gets a funny, straight-to-video sequel here), and more of a straight horror film. There are a handful of genuinely tense and scary moments in the film, with a sense of true desperation shown by our group of friends and those trying to survive around them. Goldberg/Rogen really surprised me with their ability to create some wonderfully gnarly moments throughout. There is certainly something to be said for the performances as well, which could be easily written off as simple self-performance, but the meta is handled beautifully by the actors, playing up their public persona’s while a few also invoke a surprising bit of counter-expectation, most notably Michael Cera.
The film would be nothing without the bro-mance and heart, of course. The struggling friendship and fleeting bond of Jay with Seth and the rest of Seth’s friends serves just enough as window dressing to allow the rest of the film to exist and unfold. That attempt at heart and plot seems slightly rushed over, magnifying its existence as only to serve as a framework within which they choose to unleash the comedic pieces. As a result, some of the comedic scenes seem overly set up and episodic, which creates a somewhat disjointed story flow, which lessens my enthusiasm for the film some. But there are too many hearty laughs throughout to keep This is the End down. It will not be universally loved, but it has its audience. And as a product of its genre, it’s pretty darn funny, and pretty darn good.