As a writing team, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have had their fair share of ups and downs. Superbad launched them as one of the biggest comedy duos in Hollywood and they kept that success going with Pineapple Express, but neither The Green Hornet nor The Watch really lived up to the standard that audiences had grown to expect. Their rebound solution was to make their directorial debut on an adaptation of a short film they wrote about Rogen and Jay Baruchel playing themselves trapped together at the end of the world – and that plan has worked out brilliantly.
This Is The End is set up on an extremely thin plot line –Rogen, Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson play fictional versions of themselves who go to a party at Franco’s house and end up having to try and survive the biblical apocalypse together – but the story is interestingly propelled by individual character conflicts and sketch-like situational set-ups constructed purely for laughs. The film’s primary relationship is between Rogen and Baruchel as long-time friends who are separated by the fact that the latter isn’t a big fan of the Los Angeles celebrity scene that the former has been sucked into. But as the film moves, the group finds more funny dynamics and pairings, like Hill oddly coddling Baruchel at each possible turn, and McBride and Franco’s boiling, intense hatred for one another. Rogen and Goldberg have an excellent feel for the funniest pairings and structure the story towards them, all while making sure that nobody is overexposed.
This Is The End’s clear primary objective is making the audience laugh so hard they have to gasp for air, and in that respect the film is a tremendous success. It’s rare that a scene ends without at least one out-loud laugh, and most have several. The story works like a bottle plot that escalates and has the characters becoming more agitated and aggressive over time, leading to hysterical circumstances like Franco and McBride having a screaming match about ejaculating on a porno magazine and a group debate about who gives off the biggest “rape-y vibe” when Emma Watson (also as herself) shows up. Even before the apocalyptic events begin the audience is on the floor, with Franco’s party filled with a number of hilarious cameos –the best being a Superbad reunion between Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and a super coked-up Michael Cera, and Jason Segel bemoaning the downside of being on a long-running sitcom.
With this cast, it would have been a challenge for the movie not to be funny. Each star puts on a tremendous individual performance, while also working perfectly within the ensemble. McBride, who is by far the most stupidly aggressive member of the group, owns more than his fair share of the film’s best moments, but it’s honestly hard to declare a stand-out because everyone is so fantastic. Shame is thrown out of the window fairly frequently as Rogen admits to being “titty-fucked” by bullies as a kid and Robinson sips his own urine out of a martini glass, but it all pays off.
As a directorial debut, Rogen and Goldberg’s work is impressive, not just because of their adept approach to the performances, but also in their visual style. Most of the film takes place in one setting – Franco’s House – but the filmmakers really maximize their space and use it to create multiple set pieces that make the film seem bigger than it is. The post-apocalyptic landscape of Los Angeles is also excellently rendered and the CGI-designed demons and monsters that lurk in the shadows are both beautiful and badass. In their time as a writing duo, Rogen and Goldberg have had the chance to work with some very talented directors, and it appears that they took something away from those experiences.
With titles like Ted, Bridesmaids, and The Hangover, recent years have proven that the summer season can be a great launch pad for R-rated comedies and This Is The End keeps that trend going in hilarious fashion. It’s hard to imagine that a funnier movie will come out this year.