Too often, Hollywood comedies aimed at a male audience skew more towards the single-digit side of the age scale. Yet there’s a pretty potent distinction between puerile and “late-juvenile” humor. The former—all fart, poop and pratfall—is the stuff that the eye rolls of girlfriends and wives is made of (not to mention a good portion of Adam Sandler and Kevin James’ careers). But the latter, done right, is an equal opportunity amuser. (Oh, eyes may still roll, but they do so while laughing.) In This Is the End, Seth Rogen, James Franco and their band of the mostly usual suspects proves just how potent this rarer variant of comedy can be—and how much it, in turn, can benefit from the application of a little eschatological urgency.
Based on Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse, a 2007 short film by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, This Is the End starts off calm and mundane. Jay Baruchel arrives in Los Angeles to visit his good buddy Seth—everyone plays fictionalized versions of themselves—to hang out and catch up. For his part, Seth has prepped for his friend’s visit in a manner that’s thoughtful, sweet and a smidge illegal—stocking up on snacks, video games and pot. As attentive as he is to his bud’s preferences, Seth does insist they attend a party at James Franco’s house, an event guaranteed to be full of mutual acquaintances of the two men (though not friends of Jay).
Once there, it becomes clear that what for Seth constitutes hanging with his crowd, for Jay means enduring the company of people he can’t stand. These initial scenes are measured and humorous, recognizable First Act beats of an Apatow-flavored bro-mantic comedy.
And then the world ends with a bang, not a whimper. The bang and its accompanying blue-light specials signal a corresponding transformation in the movie itself. Fueled by a mercilessly self-skewering ensemble effort from its principles (Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and Jonah Hill round out the core cast), the humor of This Is the End goes turbo, providing scene after scene that is dependably funny and frequently riotous.
In comedies especially, the “actors starring as themselves” approach is so often more painful than funny, especially when a brand-conscious star betrays an ego-tinged reluctance to make fun of oneself. The stars and bit players of This Is the End show no such inhibitions. (In fact, Michael Cera seems intent on presenting the worst—though still hilarious—version of himself possible.) If anything, this willingness to mock themselves makes the characters all the more endearing, especially as the initial bro-mance between Jay and Seth reasserts itself amid the flames, desperation and demon cocks.
As over the top as many of its scenes are, it’s hard not to credit the apocalypse itself for This Is the End’s sustained hilarity. Though plenty of the film’s scenes possess an honed improv feel much like the extemporaneous riffing of Anchorman, they are also usually more focused—in terms of plotting, there’s so little time to waste when the end is nigh.
As a result, This Is the End, in addition to being the funniest film of the year, is also the best buddies-versus-the-apocalypse film since Simon Pegg and Nick Frost battled zombie hordes to make it back to the Winchester in 2004’s Shaun of the Dead.
Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Writers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Emma Watson
Release Date: June 12, 2013