Article By: Dan Clark
We live in a celebrity obsessed culture that treats the attention fame brings you as the holy grail of human achievement. People may not be able to name the last person that won a Nobel Peace prize, but they have no issue telling you the name of the inconsiderate jerk Taylor Switft is complaining about in her latest sappy pop hit. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s latest comedy This Is the End touches upon the idea of celebrity and the misconceptions it can bring. The entire cast plays hyper realistic versions of themselves as they try to survive the end of the world. This high concept comedy is surely one of the more amusing ways to survive the apocalypse. Though considering the talent involved, it never reaches its potential great heights. Rogen and Goldberg play it relatively safe by relying heavily on rather broad and obvious comedy. The laughs are certainly there, and you would be hard pressed not to enjoy yourself with this venture. Still, it leaves a lot on the table as what could have been one of the best comedies of the year ends up being just above middle of the pack.
In the film a group of celebrities gather at James Franco’s house for an epic house warming party. Stars like Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Rihanna, Jay Baruchel, and of course Seth Rogen all show up to join in on this festivity. What starts as a celebration of peoples’ own self-worth turns into a fight for survival when the world around them begins to crumble. Earthquakes, fires, and mass hysteria seemingly break out everywhere. With colossal destruction all around they retreat to Franco’s home to wait out this impending doom. This group of friends that spend most of their time evading reality are forced to deal with some ultimate life choices. How do you survive what could possibly be the world’s true end? In their case the answer is a lot of crazy antics full of crude humor, drugs, and a great deal of self-reflection.
One key element to This Is the End is that all the actors are playing themselves. Obviously it is in name only as each is really playing a charactercher or comical take on their public persona. James Franco is an overly eccentric oddball with an unhealthy obsession of Seth Rogen. Jonah Hill is a timid soul full of compassion for all of life’s great wonders. Danny McBride is a harsher version of Danny McBride. Michael Cera attempts to put those, “He always plays the same role”, comments to rest by playing an uncontrollable coke fiend who enjoys sexually objectifying women. He makes Charlie Sheen look like…well…Michael Cera. Minus the hilariously unsettling moments of Cera’s antics this gimmick feels rather wasted. Sure the cameos and jabs at past failed films are funny, but there is not much here we have not seen or heard before. After the first twenty minutes this jokes loses much of its luster.
There is an attempt to add emotional weight to all this craziness. Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen’s friendship is the key element. They both have been growing apart as Baruchel has rejected the Hollywood lifestyle Rogen has accepted. Possible world destruction is not helping matters as they begin to see how different they truly are, nevertheless if they are going to survive this day they will need to work their way through this petty dispute. This plot device is rather ineffective as it is only there to give the narrative some resemblance of an actual arc. It is a subplot that essentially shows up when it needs to in order to keep the pace moving. Never is it treated seriously enough for it to have any real payoff. As the story progresses it becomes a basic survival tale. Almost the entire second and third acts take place inside of Franco’s home. This high concept morphs into a rudimentary skit structure, which opens the door for a great deal of creative comedy.
Rogen and Goldberg give the cast a lot of room to work with this format. Letting funny people be funny is not a novel concept, yet a lot recent comedies treat it as such. Here the cast is given a free pass to do what they want, which allows for organically funny comedy. It causes the naturally chemistry between these friends to come to the forefront. With all the ad-libbing going on there is a sense this is just a group of friends having a good time. The jokes come out in a rapid pace, and some hit harder than others. Overall the batting average is quite high as actors like Craig Robinson are rather effective playing in this playground of devastation. A lot of Robinson’s smaller quips provide some of the bigger laughs. Anyone who has seen a Rogen and Goldberg comedy in the past knows the type of comedy to expect. There are plenty of jokes that deal with their drug of choice pot, a gambit of bodily fluids, and of course a certain specific male body part. Even with familiar material the laughs are there. Rogen and Goldberg are to crude humor as Steven Spielberg is to sentimentality. It may not work all the time, but when it does no one does it better.
While there are times it truly earns its ‘R’ rating, there are also a number of eye rolling moments where it shoots for the lowest common denominator. A drug induced dance off to the world-wide hit “Gangam Style” is perhaps the worst offender. It is a lazy way to elicit some cheap laughs. Rogen and Goldberg often use music in their films to elicit some great moments. This is not further proof of that fact. Instances like this feel more fitting for campy parodies like Scary Movie and less suitable for something of this level. These setbacks stop This Is the End from reaching its true greatness.
This Is the End is not devoid of flaws. Aspects like the special effects are rough around the edges but not without their charms. Rogen and Goldberg have strong comedic minds and know how to properly use their cast’s talent. You can tell this film was loads of fun to make, and that fun translates well on-screen. While seeing actors playing themselves has its merits, being meta is not nearly as outlandish as it once was. Even with a gimmick that wears thin the cast is just too strong to let the comedy fail.