Sunday, September 22, 2013

This Is the End

movie review

This Is the End ***1/2

Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson
Written and directed by: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Tagline: Nothing ruins a party like the end of the world.

A bunch of actors - basically Seth Rogen and his famous Hollywood friends, mostly the cast members of various Judd Apatow projects - portraying amped up versions of themselves in an apocalyptic comedy co-written and co-directed by Rogen himself? If you look at it on paper, it might seem less than impressive, and you'd be forgiven for thinking it's nothing more than a vanity project.

Yet, shockingly enough, it all somehow works surprisingly well, at least for its (somewhat limited) intended audience.

An audacious stoner bromance based on Jason Stone's short Jay and Seth versus the Apocalypse, This Is the End sees Superbad scribes Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg pair up once again to not only write but also direct a film that is simultaneously goofy and incisive, and offers plenty of laughs along the way.

The main premise is simple: a group of young celebrities scramble for survival as the apocalypse strikes. It all begins when Jay Baruchel arrives in Los Angeles to hang out with his old friend Seth Rogen, who then convinces him to attend a party at James Franco's house. Baruchel reluctantly agrees, and the pair arrive at Franco's place, where the famous - including Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, and Jason Segel - have convened for a party that is disturbingly hedonistic in standard Hollywood style, with many in attendance either inebriated or stoned or both. But the festivities are cut short as the end of the world strikes. The righteous ascend to the sky, while Franco and his guests are (eventually to their bewilderment) among those left behind. Many quickly perish in the ensuing chaos. The few who survive try to figure out what is going on and struggle to get along with each other as they take refuge in Franco's mansion.

Of course actors have lampooned themselves in movies and on television before, and this isn't exactly a novel idea. The whole 'celebrities playing ridiculously obnoxious versions of themselves (while clearly insinuating the opposite)' thing has already been done before many times. Here the filmmakers have taken this idea to the extreme. Everyone plays an exaggerated version of themselves, or perhaps an extreme version of their public perception, and the filmmakers use this setup as an excuse to mock celebrity lifestyle (as well as how it appears to the rest of us) and offer a cheeky take on friendships in Hollywood while also using the film to satirize the incessant bevy of apocalypse movies and the apocalypse itself.

The main cast delivers fittingly zany performances (even though Danny McBride isn't too impressed with some of their acting at one point) and a couple of the cameos (Michael Cera and Emma Watson in particular) are very memorable. Plus the film is fairly well executed, and while it doesn't come with any extremely exceptional flourishes and could have been more even, it also doesn't give away the fact that this is the directing debut for its co-writers.

The reception of This Is the End is, however, likely to be very divisive, for the film is definitely not for everyone. To begin with, humour is notoriously subjective, and there is much in here that many would find distasteful. You need to have a high tolerance to profanity and gross-out jokes to enjoy this lark (which should be fairly obvious since this is a Rogen and Goldberg script after all). It's like Superbad meets Pineapple Express, amplified by a notch. If your sense of humour aligns with that of its creators, you are sure to have a fun time watching this movie and might even rank it as one of the funniest movies of the year; but if it doesn't, you are very likely to be put off by the crudity and irked by the antics.

The other factor that restricts its audience is that you need to be aware of the actors and their previous work to fully get the point. As the cast sends up their own typecasting, shoots a homemade Pineapple Express sequel, and ridicules each others quirks and behaviour, a certain degree of familiarity becomes essential to enjoying the film.

On the whole, This Is the End is an irreverent, rambunctious, and often amusing movie that hides a certain level of thought and reflection beneath its veneer of absurdity, puerility, and raunchiness. It is self-aware, perhaps a tad too self-referential and self-indulgent, and definitely polarizing - chances are, you will either love or hate this film, depending on your willingness to give into an outrageous premise and your level of tolerance for crude humour.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 22nd September, 2013

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