It has come to my attention that I have a relatively unpopular opinion when it comes to what will undoubtedly become the most popular Hollywood comedy of the summer. Since I seem to have come across a vast demographic of friends and peers who think differently than I do, I have written below a brief summation of my thoughts that should hopefully serve to get my opinions across clearly and adequately.
Now, two of my most favorite genres in cinema are, undoubtedly, horror and comedy. Upon trailers and word-of-mouth, I found out that this newest film by writer-director team Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen (who also stars in the movie) seeks to blend these two unique genres in one exciting hodgepodge of shenanigans. In my personal experience with both of these genres, I would say I have a rather wide taste and preference of what I find enjoyable. I could, without much difficulty, find merit in the films of George A. Romero, John Carpenter, Lucio Fulci, and Takashi Miike – among others. Furthermore, I’m guaranteed more than a few chuckles from City Lights, Dr. Strangelove, A Fish Called Wanda, and Team America: World Police – among others. I will admit, however, that raunchy comedies have never been my cup of tea, namely among the American Pie class of juvenile wisecracks and sex jokes. I do, however, greatly enjoy Superbad; not only were its dirty jokes rather clever and actually funny, but the film itself doubled as a rather sweet coming-of-age tale, not unlike what would be found in John Hughes’ youth comedies of the 80’s. With This is the End being written by Superbad writers Goldberg & Rogen – and with the motivation of high recommendation and hype for the flick – I can safely say I was quite excited for a new addition to this breed of smart comedy.
In case you, the reader, are unfamiliar with the premise of this film (despite its buzzing across the lips of seemingly every casual film-goer in the country), I’ll offer a quick summary. Rogen and his old friend Jay Baruchel head over to a party at James Franco’s house, where they hang out with their friends Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, et al. Suddenly, they are hit with an event that no one could have possibly seen coming: the world’s apocalypse. There will be explosions. So besides this lone premise, which already signals a winner, I was also immediately intrigued by the whole “actors playing themselves” aspect of the story. Self-awareness – and especially self-deprecation – in film always makes me at least a tiny bit excited for what the narrative has to offer, as I was for this work. When I walked out of the theater, however, I found myself quite disappointed in the resulting end product. Blame it on high expectations, but I have my reasons why.
But let’s talk about what I actually liked about the film. First thing’s first: the horror scenes were spectacular! There is a point where Rogen and Baruchel exit the house and walk into a local convenience store. It is at this point where the initial explosion occurs. This scene legitimately comes out of nowhere and is filmed with such genuine skill and prowess. It really does feel like it came out of a film of the found-footage sub-genre. Similar scenes of terror come later on, especially around the final third, and those parts were among the most enjoyable bits of the film. In this sense, the film succeeds within its horror parts, and I’m sure that many a horror fanatic would find them so delightful.
[I also probably don’t need to mention what I would consider Michael Cera’s greatest performance (lead or supporting), this being a wacky, horny, coked-out version of himself that has been highly praised thus far, but I’m going to mention it anyway, since about 50% of my laughs went toward his minimal screen time and boy was he great.]
And now, the not-so-good. I think my biggest issue with this film comes with the writing. I walked in the film expecting silly-yet-slick comedic banter akin to Superbad and Pineapple Express, and instead get scenes like one where Franco and Danny McBride ramble about masturbation for what seems like ten minutes. After the initial apocalyptic scene, Rogen, Franco, Baruchel, Robinson, Hill, and McBride spend nearly the entirety of the remaining two-thirds trapped inside the house, forced the interact within one another in attempts to survive through the uncertain future. These circumstances create a narrative that is ripe for unleashing the characters beneath their superficial façades they’ve projected around their famous friends. Unfortunately, this is instead used to continue the non-stop stream of dirty, unfunny jests. The only time we have a chance to know something subtextual about any of the characters, their story is subverted into some kind of joke. The jokes aren’t clever either; rather, they’re just simple enough to appeal to the horny frat-boy mentality, and just generally lacking of any originality whatsoever. Early in the film, Rogen mentions a time in his life when he was “titty-fucked” against his will; not only is this a pitiful attempt at humor that glamorizes rape, but it is used as a motif through the rest of the film for laughs, each with similar failure.
After some thinking, I’ve found that the film did the opposite of what Pineapple Express (which I actually really enjoyed) did. In Pineapple Express, the first third of the film is conveyed as a typical sort of stoner comedy, replete with this kind of comedy that can be expected. Once the conflict kicks in, however, the film progressively enters into a high-speed crime/action territory, and the story suddenly becomes much more interesting. Weed jokes are still scattered here and there, but done generously and in a way that helps move the plot along and, moreover, aid in the blooming of the on-screen bromance between the leads. Plus, it kicks ass. The jokes in This is the End, however, are overly saturated along scene after scene. After about the halfway point, the plot has progressed very minimally as these jokes become old and repetitive very quickly. The additional component of horror is scattered throughout – e.g. when the guys briefly kick around a decapitated head like a soccer ball – but they are heavily sandwiched between “humor” that teeters along pure narcissism – e.g. when the guys taken entire bag of ecstasy or drink their own urine.
As far as the actual narrative is concerned, my problems aren’t of any shortage. The most obvious aspect of the storyline is the weirdly biblical approach to the apocalypse. I already have a bit of a problem with suspending my disbelief for many films, though I tend to be a bit more lenient with horror cinema or films with horror components. However, any film that uses “Bible = fact” as an integral part of its events cannot really be taken seriously for me (and it’s not because I’m atheist). Having Baruchel read a few Bible passages and have that accepted as the truth of the occurrences with no profound questioning or immense push-and-pull that comes with such religious discussion isn’t a clever way of moving the narrative along. To me, it’s just plain old lazy writing. I feel that this concept may have been better executed in a short film format, where such inhibitions may have been more gracefully accomplished.
So, that about sums it up. In a nutshell, I really appreciate, even love the concept for this film. I truly do. It just frustrates me that such a concept had been wasted on a recycling bin of a film, reusing the same dirty jokes again and again; even more so when I know from Superbad and Pineapple Express that the two are capable of true, genuine fun. Even from this film, the horror scenes show that the writer-director duo can truly compose some rather exciting plot points. They are both spontaneous and very well-executed. The humor just quickly ran dry right after the first third, and from that point onward, it felt that the cast were desperately grabbing for straws to try to milk out some laughs in any way possible. Perhaps I am not the target audience – I dislike Family Guy-esque humor and generally anything that appeals to the “bro” mindset – but I’d like to think I know a well-written film when I see one. Superbad is one of the most enjoyable comedies of its type because of its writing; in the case of This is the End, however, this resides their primary downfall.