Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Vainglorious, but Mostly Glorious -- Reflections on "This Is the End" (2013)

Welcome to the world of celebrity. Someone notify TMZ!
The end of the world is nigh in this comedy from Seth Rogen and his collaborator, Evan Goldberg. In this film, all the leads play comical versions of themselves as they face the end of days in all their unrighteous, Biblical glory. The joy of this film comes in the great rapport the actors have with each other, their uncanny knack for saying the most vile, perverse things in the most endearing ways possible, and in the surprise that this premise didn’t come across as the most vain of all of Hollywood’s vanity projects being released this year.

Admittedly, I went into this film with low expectations. Vanity projects are often pointless excuses for excess, but what separates this movie from others of its type is the actors gleeful willingness to eviscerate themselves. Rogen is portrayed as a people pleaser who is pretty clueless as it relates to reading the social cues of his friends, and in selecting good scripts to work on (Green Hornet, anyone?). James Franco is an obnoxious, self-obsessed hipster who may-or-may-not have a mancrush on Rogen. Jonah Hill is a manipulative little shit, and Danny McBride is a legendary asshole. No one gets away from this movie without being the butt of a joke. The self-deprecation makes the trip into these narcissistic people's world palatable and fun.

The jokes come at us fast and furious, from conversations about masturbation and rape to visual site gags involving demonic cocks. While the conversations are remarkably foul, which won't be for everyone, there's a realism to them that makes it feel like we are flies on the wall in the real world of these celebrities. I found myself laughing pretty hard through most of it. 

But the movie has something huge working against it, which is the fact that in about 5 years (and maybe sooner) it will be seen as remarkably dated. Down the road, many filmgoers will not be aware of the likes of Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride – at least not aware of the way our tabloid culture perceives of their personalities. And there are a few moments during the film when it is our knowledge of each actors’ reputation that fuels the laughter, especially during the opening party sequence, which is one of the most laugh heavy parts of the film (the Michael Cera cameo is absolutely hysterical, yet is only funny because of the audience’s understanding that he always plays the sweet, nerdy, good boy). This makes the movie a fun summer indulgence, but most certainly not a perennial favorite.

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