Comedies tend to get second-class treatment in comparison to their more dramatic counterparts, especially among film circles. There are reasons for this, of course. Many comedies have one goal: to make the audience laugh, which tends to sacrifice anything resembling a story for pointless non-sequiturs and unnecessary fart jokes. When I went into This Is the End, I didn’t know if I would be treated to something of that nature, that would just seem like a half-baked idea Seth Rogen came up with to have a good time with his friends, or if it the film would have a fun, satirical edge that would lampoon celebrity culture and apocalypse films through a witty story. As it turns out, This Is the End wound up being a little bit of both, and even touched on some weighty themes about faith in a way that never felt preachy or sentimental.
The film starts with Seth Rogen greeting Jay Baruchel at the airport, who has just begrudgingly returned to Los Angeles. We come to find out that Baruchel hates the L.A. crowd, so when Rogen invites him to a party at James Franco’s house, he is less than thrilled. Filled to the brim with famous faces, Franco’s party acts as a who’s who of the TV and movie comedy circles, with such actors as Jason Segel, Michael Cera, Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Kevin Hart. Even Rihanna gets in the mix, for some strange reason. Regardless, we also meet who will round out our main cast for the remainder of the film: Franco, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson. There is the usual over-indulgence, heaps of beautiful young women and ubiquitous drug use that I’d like to this happens whenever this many celebrities get together, and everyone’s having a good old time. Then the earth begins the shake. Rogen and Baruchel, who escaped the party to get cigarettes at a local convenience store, witness several of the store’s occupants get sucked into the sky through a beam of light. It seems that the apocalypse has rained down over the earth, with only good occupants getting beamed up to Heaven. Naturally, none of the actors get sucked up, considering their selfish greed and whatnot, but many get sucked down into Hell through a giant, expanding pit in the ground. Left to fend for themselves, Rogen, Baruchel, Franco, Hill and Robinson hide in Franco’s house while disaster wreaks havoc over the earth outside.
To spoil what happens next to the actors would ruin the fun of the film, but suffice it to say there is perhaps nothing more entertaining than watching self-important people failing at everyday, common sense tasks. Each actor plays an exaggerated version of himself, such as Rogen’s laziness to a fault and Hill’s pretentiousness. You can very easily tell that these guys are great friends, and their chemistry in one-on-one interactions, as well as with the whole group, is palpable. Despite their relative idiocy, this is a group of guys you want to hang out with, which is part of what makes the film so appealing. In fact, if this were a studio production that hired actors who didn’t know each other that well, I doubt this would have worked. Luckily, each of the main characters brings something to the table to provide laughs, so it truly feels like an ensemble comedy. In addition to directing the film, Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote the screenplay, and you can tell that they had a firm grasp on what each actor sounded like, utilizing each of their strengths as comedic actors. They also had a good sense of how to tell a complete story without sacrificing a near consistent flow of comedy.
One of the most interesting concepts that begins to creep in over the course of the film is the idea of faith through selflessness. Each actor is guilty of violating many of the seven deadly sins, including greed, envy and pride. As they gradually learn that there are still ways to get out of the apocalypse unscathed, there are real moments of serious human emotion that you rarely find in raunch-fests like this. The film does not overdramatize these moments with schmaltzy music or long, overwrought monologues, since either of those things would ring false in comparison to everything else. Rogen and Goldberg let these moments happen organically, even if the apocalyptic background is decidedly un-organic. The film flies by at a rapid pace, and though the plot begins to become episodic by the end, it mostly rings true to how it would genuinely feel to go through the apocalypse with your friends.
Sometimes though, all that matters is that a movie should entertain you and make you glad you spent money to go see it in theaters. That’s how I felt coming out of This Is the End. You can talk all you want about how ludicrous the premise is or how certain plot details don’t make sense, but that’s not the be-all-end-all of great moviemaking. On a consistent basis, This Is the End made me laugh more than any movie I’ve seen in years and sometimes that can make up for plot hole here and there or a decidedly uncomplicated story. On a pure entertainment level, This Is the End was a satisfying moviegoing experience that I would not only recommend to fans of Superbad or Pineapple Express but also regular fans of comedy that are just looking for a good time.
MVP: Seth Rogen (for writing, directing and acting)
Probably none but I would support a writing nomination for Rogen and Goldberg.
Photo: Columbia Pictures
Photo: Columbia Pictures