June 13, 2013

Daley Q&A - THIS IS THE END Is Ballsy, Both Literally And Figuratively

"You're just as shitty as the rest of us."
Chances are, as soon as you saw the first trailer for This Is The End, in which Seth Rogen and friends play themselves dealing with the end of the world, you knew immediately whether or not it was your cup of tea.  Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride...these guys have all become pretty polarizing comedians at this point - either you think they're brilliantly funny or you're instantly turned off by their particular brand of shenanigans.  I'll admit that I'm in the first camp, and even when they do something that doesn't really work (Green Hornet) or struggles to find its audience (Your Highness), they're so willing to dip into the realm of the truly weird that the results are almost always interesting at the very least.  That being said, I think that This Is The End is going to be writer/director/star Seth Rogen's biggest commercial hit in years and pave the way for him to keep making the kind of modestly budgeted films that he seems so well suited for.

I want to try a new approach here, call it the Daley Q&A.  To be clear, this is basically a conversation with myself, but the next time I go to an advanced screening, I'll try to gather questions from you trusty readers.  Without further ado...

Q: Is it funny?  
A: Hells to the yes, and in the most immature, sophomoric way possible.  This movie might be the epitome of phallic humor.  It feels like there was a lot of riffing in certain bits (particularly one back and forth exchange between Franco and McBride) that perhaps could have benefited from some sharper editing.  That's not to say I wasn't laughing throughout, but every joke seemed to go on for two or three lines longer than necessary and I often found myself marveling that the scene was still going on.  But I don't really mind a shaggy comedy so long as the jokes are hitting.  And boy, do they ever hit.  In terms of laughs per minute, this is probably the funniest commercial comedy* of the year so far, much to the chagrin of The Hangover Part III.

Q: Doesn't the whole, "everyone's playing themselves" bit feel a little self-indulgent?  
A: Actually, no.  Everyone's smartly playing a fictional, exaggerated version of themselves and in almost every case, that character cleverly pokes fun at their own public persona.  McBride, Robinson and Franco each kind of take their own recognizable shticks to the extreme - Franco is annoyingly artsy, Robinson is big teddy bear with a dirty mind, and McBride is a post-apocalyptic Kenny Powers, with probably the best onscreen entrance(s) you'll see in a theater this summer.  But I have to admit that the one who's stuck with me is Jonah Hill.  He goes off at a complete right angle, playing something that's so wonderfully twisted you almost can't fully appreciate it as it's happening.  It's the kind of performance that I expect will reward repeat viewings, getting funnier the second and third time around.  

Q: Who's got the best celebrity cameo/death scene?
A: The first 20 minutes are absolutely packed with familiar faces.  Some get extended sequences, while others literally show up for five seconds, but almost every one of them is both funny and on point, like Jason Segel complaining about how bad How I Met Your Mother has gotten while Kevin Hart laughs at the show's mediocre jokes.  Everyone's going to be talking about Michael Cera and rightly so, ("Does this cocaine smell funny?") but David Krumholtz actually has my favorite of all the celebrity deaths.  When Rihanna fell into a bottomless chasm, most of the theater cheered, although I couldn't tell you why.  (Do people secretly hate her?  Did I accidentally attend a screening for Chris Brown fans?  I don't get it.)  Oh yeah, and there's a brilliant cameo late in the film which absolutely DESTROYS.  Don't look at IMDb and don't let anyone spoil it for you.

Q: So can Seth Rogen actually direct?
A: Impressively so.  Despite appearances this is a really ambitious film, which makes its ultimate success all the more impressive.  Not only do Rogen and Goldberg tackle the apocalypse with gusto, but they also throw in monsters, exorcisms, roving cannibals and all sorts of other fun genre staples.  It might sound like they're just throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks, but it actually escalates in such a way that, by the time you get to the final conflict, it somehow feels earned.  Not only that, but they employ a really effective tactic to keep the film moving along.  Whenever the emotional conflict between the two leads starts to escalate, the argument will be abruptly interrupted mid-sentence by some kind of explosion or earthquake that hurls everyone into the next challenge while propelling the story's momentum.  It's a smart choice that actually feels somewhat fresh and innovative.

Q: How much apocalypse do we really get to see?  
A: Most of the film keeps it pretty small scale, limiting the action to in and around Franco's house, although the third act goes pretty damn big, including one image that will sear itself into your brain for days.  You can tell that Rogen, Goldberg and producer/star Jay Baruchel are real fans of the apocalypse sub-genre because they really treat that part of the film with tremendous respect, evidenced by the hiring of Greg Nicotero and the guys from KNB EFX.  They also cleverly tackle the small scale survival problems, like rationing scarce food and water, helping outsiders and addressing a potentially creepy gender dynamic.  I was legitimately afraid that the end of the world was going to get shortchanged and just turn into the backdrop for a series of penis jokes, but the amount of care and thought put into this stuff really shines through.

Q: So what brings about this version of global destruction?  Meteor strikes?  Nuclear war?  Aliens?  
A: I'm gonna leave that one be.  The answer isn't really a spoiler, but the characters spend a decent chunk of story arguing about what's actually going on and it's a pretty good source of tension in the group, even if the answer feels pretty obvious to the audience.  It's the kind of choice that inherently comes with a certain type of baggage, but they kind of shrug that stuff off - the actual "why is this happening" part is never addressed but also never missed.  Instead the method of apocalypse is used as a prism to dissect the nature of friendship and what it means to be a good person.

Q: Wait, what?  Are you still talking about the same movie?  
A: I know.  The sneaky truth about This Is The End is that it's actually a love story.  Believe it or not, amidst all the raucous comedy and mass destruction lies a genuinely sweet treatise on the modern bromance.  You see, Seth and Jay are old friends from Canada, but while Seth has become a big Hollywood success with lots of money, Jay remains wary of Los Angeles and despises the crowd Seth's fallen in with.  All Jay wants to do is chill out with an old friend for a few days, smoke weed, drink beers and play video games like the old days, but Seth really wants Jay to get along with his new friends and ends up dragging him to a party at Franco's house.  So when the shit hits the fan and they're all trapped together, Seth sees it as an opportunity for Jay to bond with the rest of the guys, while Jay just sees himself trapped in the last place he wants to spend the end of the world.  Lies are told and trusts are betrayed, but it rarely feels forced or gimmicky.  We've all had close friendships that have slipped away over time.  I've had more than I care to admit, particularly every time I've changed schools or moved across the country.  Everyone likes the idea of "BFF" but in reality friendships are extremely temperamental and far more "of the moment" than we'd like to admit.  New friends and old rarely mesh the way we'd like and eventually we all drift apart, whether it be physically, emotionally or both.  At its core, This Is The End is a movie about two people coming to grips with the idea that they may be clinging to the memory of a friendship that doesn't really exist anymore.  That's a tough reality to face, and the older the friend the more it truly feels like the end of the world.  The good news is that it's never too late; since moving back to Boston, I've gotten back in touch with a lot of old friends that I hadn't seen or spoken to in almost 15 years. The movie agrees - Jay's climactic speech to Seth is a truly touching moment that really makes you feel the weight that comes from the many years of their real and fictional friendship. It's the same speech given in countless middle-of-the-road romantic comedies, but here it's actually believable. 

Q: ...But it's funny, right?

Q: So do they end up saving the world, or what?
A: It's not really that kind of movie, although it is sort of implied that an enemy is slain.  But I must admit that, while I'm not exactly the target audience for this particular joke, the film's final scene is a moment of such pure, unadulterated joy that I defy you to walk out of the theater without a big dumb smile on your face.

If you have any interest in seeing This Is The End, do yourself a favor: don't wait for it to come out on blu-ray and watch it alone on your couch.  Grab some friends and go this weekend while the theaters are sure to be packed.  Trust me.

*To be fair, Cheap Thrills is just as funny and probably a better film, but it's dark as hell and probably won't get a wide release.

Title: This Is The End
Director: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Emma Watson
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Theatrical - Showcase Revere

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