I admit I was getting nervous. More and more often in recent years, I’ve gone to see big-name “comedies” that everyone else thought were “heeee-larious,” but I found at best amusing, at worst, hateful and horrifically unfunny.
We all know humor is a personal, subjective thing, and that it thrives on surprise and neither trait is much appreciated by nervous studios trying to make movies that appeal formulaically to the widest audience.
And with the rise of Internet humor sites and cable TV, it seemed that my taste in comedy had become increasingly idiosyncratic and rarified. I despaired of ever laughing—really laughing, uncontrollably laughing—again in a mainstream theater.
I think you can see where this is not-so-subtly going.
There are two axis of humor comprising This is the End:
- Exaggerated (we hope, Michael Cera!), whiny, petulant, narcissistic “asshole” versions of Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson (narcissistically) poke fun of their narcissism in the face of a full-blown Biblical Apocalypse.
- Thanks to said Apocalypse and a survivalist mentality (bunkered down in Franco’s Hollywood Hills home/fortress), increasingly terrible, violent, crude, perverse things happen them.
So we viewers get to both watch the celebrities (and the stereotypes around them) that are at the heart of our modern culture get (quite literally) a well-deserved rogering and still revel in that same worship of famous people.
It’s how we’ve always done: The only thing we want more than to be a celebrity (or friends with one) is to see a celebrity laid low, whether it’s by way of DUIs and sex tapes or kicked flailing and screaming into a fiery Hell pit.
In skewering their own images, the writers and actors involved in This is the End can’t help but seem hypocritical: “Look at us and give us credit for making fun of how important we think it is that people continue to look at us!” And when the movie isn’t repeatedly milking the Funny or Die-style idea that celebrity self-mockery is inherently funny, it’s running out a parade of drug humor, sex humor, violent humor, toilet humor, and bad, crude language.
And OMG is it funny.
Granted, I dig all these sorts of things. I’m the guy who loves the whole “Julia Roberts playing a character pretending to be Julia Roberts” bit in Ocean’s Twelve. I eat right up this self-referential, Industry-in-joke crap. (“We’re good people! We bring joy to people’s lives!”)
Toss in the Monty-Python-Meets-Dante-on-‘Roids slapstick End of the World shtick (heads do roll!), some well-placed (if obvious) music cues, and a few celebrity cameos (yes, in a film that is essentially one big celebrity cameo, and yes, they’re hilarious), and you have, for me at least, a literal no-breather.
(Acting like an exaggerated, asshole version of yourself in a comedy isn’t new, but thanks in part to Larry David, it’s the current hot way to spin your public image while still coming off ironic-cool. Just to name a few faves off the top of my head: Ben Stiller and Kate Winslet in Extras, Matt Damon in House of Lies, Steve Coogan in several Michael Winterbottom films, Matt LaBlanc in Episodes, nearly everyone in Entourage, and of course NPH always and forever.)
Most everyone in the film gets in the swing of things, with Franco and McBride having the most obnoxious fun. Jonah Hill (“… of Moneyball”) is the closest to a weak link—surprising given his ability to riff and improvise impressively even in sub-par fare like The Sitter, but it feels like Hill’s not as secure in mocking himself as the others.
While Franco (with his wonderfully hideous new concrete house) is the Big-Name 500-pound Gorilla here, the twist is that this isn’t Hill, Franco, or even co-director Rogen’s movie: The ensemble film’s central protagonist is the always enjoyable Canadian geek-mensch Baruchel—the least-known member of the main cast (unless you count Tropic Thunder and his voice work in How to Train Your Dragon).
What skimpy “message” the film sports revolves around Baruchel’s role as a Hollywood outsider (don’t miss last year’s crudely delightful hockey flick Goon, which he co-wrote with Goldberg) and the difficulty in maintaining old-school friendships as everyone else tries to hop on the Industry Success Train.
This is the End (which was inspired by Jason Stone’s 2007 mock-trailer short Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse) is not a brilliant film. As co-written and co-directed by longtime friends and writing partners Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, The Pineapple Express, The Watch), it’s sometimes disjointed with its share of slow spots, including a couple low-energy stretches in the second act. The humor is not built on the sort of smart, wry asides that sometimes make a theatrical comedy bloom on repeated home viewings—instead we are firmly into Giant Flaming Satan Phallus territory.
If you tally up the obnoxious, over-the-top, R-rated outrageous humor and the sledgehammer use of familiar pop songs for ironic effect, on paper it’s hard to see a difference between This is the End and something awful like The Hangover III. And yet… despite their glee over watching the world burn in damnation, it doesn’t feel like these film makers and actors hate humanity.
Amid the chaos, there’s a likable, twisted sort good-nature, not the least in how Rogen and Goldberg make the film feel like a sincere career gift to Baruchel. (Or maybe they figured making Jay the star would alleviate any jockeying for the spotlight amid the bigger-names.)
Nor, despite the stoner-mentality of most of its principals, is This is the End a lazy, “aren’t we having fun on the set?” home-movie toss off–Rogen and Goldberg put some serious work into the laughs (as well as some impressively massive special effects).
It’s safe to say not everyone is going to have as much of a stupid, embarrassingly good time with This is the End as I did, but if Armageddon is this much nasty, riotous fun, I’ll pass on the Rapture, thanks.