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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Comedy is really hard to review. That’s the cliché, and it rings true no matter how many times it gets repeated. We don’t really cover a lot of comedy here on the Culture Cast in general, because it is incredibly tough for me (I can’t speak for Nick, but I’d imagine he feels the same way) to digest comedy. Comedy also goes in cycles, and what is popular for a short amount of time often gets pushed to the wayside in the next few years for something newer and fresher. As an example, look at the big Judd Apatow films from 2005 to about 2008. The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, and Pineapple Express (though to a somewhat lesser extent) were all big hits, critically and commercially. After this deluge of Apatow-directed and produced comedies, audiences seemed to tire of this style of comedy, and both Funny People and This is 40 under-performed at the box office.
In the interim, movies like 21 Jump Street and Bridesmaids (which both had Apatow connections but didn’t feel like Apatow comedies) became huge hits, launching careers (Melissa McCarthy) and spawning a new franchise for Sony (the 21 Jump Street sequel is on the horizon). In This is the End, the latest comedy collaboration from Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen (who co-wrote and co-directed), the Apatow connection is still present (with the entire cast of this film having appeared in multiple Apatow productions), but continues to be quite different from those earlier films from 2005-2008 or so. This is the End is an apocalyptic comedy, with a great deal of self-referential, (the cast play fictionalized versions of themselves and reference their real life movie credits continuously), religious, and dark humor. The change of pace is production is welcomed, and the movie is just different enough from what we have all grown sick of to prove quite funny.
In This is the End, Jay Baruchel (Undeclared, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) plays a sullen, somewhat down-on-his luck version of himself, and serves pretty much as the main character. Fed up with the fake-ness of the Hollywood scene, Baruchel has fled to his native Canada, where he has been out of the spotlight for a year or so. He flies into LA at the beginning of the movie to meet up with old friend Seth Rogen. Unfortunately, Rogen also wants to attend James Franco’s big Hollywood party, which upsets Baruchel, who doesn’t want to run into the old gang, especially not Jonah Hill, who he can’t stand. Rogen convinces him to come along anyway, and sure enough, Baruchel feels quite distant from his friend at the party, and wants to leave for a pack of smokes. Coming along out of guilt, Rogen joins him, and as the two wait in line for a pack of cigarettes, the apocalypse happens, with mysterious beams of blue light grasping onto people and horrendous earthquakes and fires destroying the city around them.
What I love about the set-up of this movie is, had one not seen the trailer for the film, there would really be no way of knowing this was an end-of-the-world movie. The first half hour or so of the film is pretty much our main characters hanging out at a Hollywood party. Celebrities like Michael Cera, Rihanna, Jason Segel, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse fill out the background in cameo roles, and play up their real-life personas just as much as the principle cast. The movie also does a great job of setting up the friendship and then conflict between Rogen and Baruchel, and it is easy to see why Baruchel is frustrated with the Hollywood scene and unhappy with his former best friend. This is the End does a pretty good job all-around of letting the viewer get inside the head of its main character, something I did not expect would happen at all considering this was being marketed almost solely as a stoner comedy.
The biggest strength in the movie is with the core cast of characters, who all give off a great comedic energy. There is some really fine chemistry in this cast, probably owing to the fact that these actors have worked together many times in the past. Danny McBride, playing a great antagonist, steals the show, and does his abrasive, mouthy asshole character to great hilarity. I did not expect to like James Franco as much as I did here either, as I have grown extremely tired of him over the past few years. He was pretty funny in this movie though, playing off of the pretentious, art-y douchebag persona he has garnered recently. The two really great performances in the movie, however, lay in the friendship between Rogen and Baruchel, which is realistically portrayed, and also just a bit nostalgic and somewhat heartwarming.
There are flaws in This is the End, however. The movie, by the end of its 106-minute run time, really exhausts its premise. It would have probably been a much tighter, funnier film at a more brisk 90-minute run time. I also feel the ending cheaps out just a bit, almost as if Goldberg and Rogen didn’t know exactly what to do to finish their feature. Still though, the movie totally hits some comedic highs, with McBride’s insanity and feud with James Franco and a fake Pineapple Express 2 trailer being considerable high-points, in addition to a much-hyped cameo in the middle of the film. Check it out not only as a good stoner comedy, but as a pretty funny production in general.