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Josh Reviews This is the End

In This is the End, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, James Franco, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride play themselves, attending a housewarming party at James Franco’s new home, a party this is unfortunately interrupted by, well, the end of the world.  Co-written and co-directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen (based on the fake trailer Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse, written by Mr. Goldberg, Mr. Rogen, and Jason Stone — click here to watch),the result is a hilarious horror/comedy that careens from humor drawn from the familiar Apatow source of stoner buddies hanging out (a scene early in the film in which Jay and Seth argue over the merits of a gluten-free diet is a particular stand-out) to full-on special-effects end-of-the-world horror craziness.

This is a film that shouldn’t work.  One might expect it to be indulgent and boring, or to collapse under the weight of a small-budget film reaching for a mega-budget epic scale.  But instead, I found This is the End to be a crazy, rollicking delight, funny and endearing from start to finish.

After having watched this group of comedic actors work together so many times before, in so many different combinations and permutations… after having watched them grow up on screen (like many, I have been watching a lot of these guys since Paul Feig & Judd Apatow’s masterful Freaks and Geeks in 1999)… and after having watched so many DVD special features in which we see these guys goofing off and palling around, it’s easy for viewers to feel like we know all of these guys as if they were our own friends.  Of course, they’re not our friends, and we don’t really know them.  But in having all of these actors play themselves (rather than characters with different names who just so happen to fit into each of their established comedic personas), This is the End cannily plays on the audience’s pre-existing connection to these guys, and our presumed knowledge of them.  We already know and love this group of fellas, so the movie doesn’t need to waste any time developing their characters.  We can jump right into the story.

It’s fun to watch a movie that feels like we’re seeing what these guys are really like when they hang out.  Even though of course this isn’t what they’re really like — even here, playing characters with their own names, none of these actors are really playing themselves.  They are playing comically exaggerated versions of themselves.  It’s like the difference between real-life Larry David and the Larry David we see on Curb Your Enthusiasm.  The film finds a magical sweet spot in presenting versions of these characters that, upon consideration, are surely not what they’re like in real life, but that are close enough to what they’re most likely like in real life as to feel totally real and honest to the audience.  For the first thirty minutes of the film, it’s easy to believe that we’re just watching an unscripted representation of these dudes hanging out and having fun with one another.

This is the End is jam packed with jokes — there are jokes upon jokes upon jokes, and many of them dig deeply into the audience’s shared past with these performers (via all the movies and TV shows we have seen them in).  As depicted in this film, Seth, Jay, Craig, James, Jonah and Danny delight in busting one another’s balls, throwing out references both obvious and subtle.  The film works well if you’re not obsessively familiar with these guys’ filmography, but it works even better if you are.  For instance, there’s a great moment late in the film in which, post-apocalypse, Jonah Hill faints and so Rogen and Franco decide to try to revive him by feeding him their last, precious Snicker’s bar.  Of course, they wind up eating most of the Snicker’s bar themselves, and their orgasmic reactions to eating the delicious chocolate are very funny.  But anyone who catches that Franco’s “mmm good” line is a reference to a particularly cringe-inducing moment in Spider-Man 3 will laugh even harder.  The scene is very funny if you don’t catch that in-joke, but it’s elevated to brilliant if you do.

As I commented at the beginning, this sort of self-referential humor could very easily not work, but somehow in This is the End I found those in-jokes to be incredibly engaging, a reward to the audience and a way to make us feel as if we, the viewers, are somehow a part of the group of friends we are watching on screen.  Probably my favorite sequence in the film is the fake, home-made trailer for The Pineapple Express 2 that the guys make for themselves.  It’s a clever reference to one of their most successful collaborations, and it’s a very funny bit, but most importantly it’s a great encapsulation of the friendship these men share and the way they can clearly make one another laugh.

Though a very raunchy film, This is the End is also surprisingly sweet.  The friendship between these guys provides the centerpiece for all the craziness, and also a focus for the story.  The film’s moral, about the importance of treating others well, is simplistic but also genuine.  In much the same way that The Simpsons was often, in its early years, criticized as being a negative, anti-family values show despite it’s being, in actuality, one of the few TV shows on the air to actually depict faith in God and the importance of real values, This is the End might feel like a juvenile, anarchic film, but it turns out to be rather surprisingly focused on the importance of doing the right thing.

But don’t get me wrong, This is the End is very funny.  You will be impressed at the joke-per-second ratio, and I loved how far the filmmakers took some of their crazier ideas.  One of the best sequences in the film is an extended Rosemary’s Baby parody featuring Jonah Hill, entitled “The Exorcism of Jonah Hill” and it is genius.  Also, gross.  Also, hysterical.

Another high point is the introduction of Danny McBride into the movie.  They showed, in all the trailers, the (very funny) scene in which Danny, oblivious to what had happened to the world outside James Franco’s home, accidentally cooks up all of the food the guys had been saving.  But before that sequence in the film comes an extended bit that could be one of the greatest character introduction sequences ever put on film.  It’s spectacular.

I loved Jay Baruchel in Undeclared, but though he has certainly had some terrific roles in the decade-plus since that show’s short one-and-only season (he received a lot of acclaim, rightly so, for his work in Million Dollar Baby), Mr. Baruchel hasn’t quite seemed to launch into big-time movie-stardom the way many of his former peers (Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, etc.) seem to have done.  So I love how prominently featured Mr. Baruchel is in This is the End, a movie whose narrative seems almost designed to elevate Mr. Baruchel into the same company as Rogen, Franco, etc.  Mr. Baruchel is a great “everyman” center for the film, but This is The End also gives him a lot of funny material to play with.  It’s a great showcase.

All the guys are terrific in the film, but I was particularly impressed by James Franco’s fearlessness in playing himself as exactly the weird, pompous, stoner, maybe gay caricature that he is sometimes seen to be.  Mr. Franco dives right into those stereotypes of himself, and the result is so funny that it’s easy to forget what a performing triumph it is.

The film is also chock-full of cameos from so many other young comedic actors of the day.  I wouldn’t dream of spoiling them, but suffice to say there is a lot of great humor mined from the many famous guests at Franco’s housewarming party, and the gruesome deaths that befall most of them.

I cannot recommend this raunchy, absurd, hilarious film strongly enough.  I recognize that this is not necessarily a film for everyone, but it hit me right in my comedic sweet-spot, and I loved every minute.

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