This Is the End: Anarchic Comedy

The twisted apocalyptic feature, aptly titled “This Is the End,” may not be the best comedy this summer, but it’s certainly the wildest, boldest, most original, and most self-conscious.

The multi-hyphenate talents Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are the engineers behind this playfully postmodernist comedy, serving as producers, directors, writers, and lead actors. As scribes, Rogen and Goldberg draw on their previous collaboration, the short “Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse,” from 2007.

Starring the hottest actors in Hollywood now—-the new generation of funny men–he ensemble includes James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson. And playing smaller roles are Michael Cera and Emma Watson, among others,

The premise of the narrative, which is a hybrid of the comedy and horror genres in equal measures, is based on confinement: What happens if you are stuck in a house with your best friends and the world as we know it is ending outside? The ensuing tale chronicles the bizarre and crazy events that happen to our amigos when they are literally stuck in the same house together.

James Franco plays James Franco, Jonah Hill plays Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen plays Seth Rogen, and so on. But they’re not really playing themselves. Instead, they give credence to the sociological theory of the “looking-glass self,” namely, that individuals behave in ways that they think that others–their viewers–perceive them off-screen. These personas include elements of their real selves, but they are twisted, exaggerated, and taken to the extreme. The above challenge should not be taken lightly, and Jonah Hill, for one, has gone on record saying, “I’ve never slipped out of character more than when I was playing myself.”

The tale follows six friends trapped in a house after a series of catastrophic events that devastate Los Angeles. More than any other city, Los Angeles, the City of the Future, has been Hollywood’s most favorite target for mass destruction, going back to the sci-fi movies of the 1950s.

That they are trapped in James Franco’s house as the end of the world begins makes the picture funnier. The disasters that the filmmakers imagine are not the “usual” nature or man-made catastrophes, such as earthquake, fires, or mud slides, but apocalypses of epic biblical proportions that even Cecil B. DeMille could not have dreamed of.

“This Is the End” is more than just a one-joke movie. Since people know that the actors have appeared in movies together, the filmmakers had to acknowledge that fact–and move beyond it. To their credit, the on screen relationships feel reasonably plausible and relatable.

As the world unravels outside, dwindling supplies, claustrophobic fever, and other tensions threaten to tear apart the friendships inside. I am not disclosing much by saying that, eventually, they are forced to leave the house, facing their fate and the true meaning of friendship and redemption.

“This is the End” could be seen as the ultimate vanity project, as the comedy is based on exaggerated versions of the actors themselves, that is, on both the real and the reel lives of the characters concerned. Some critics may legitimately raise the question of why would the public want to pay to see James Franco playing himself? Didn’t we get enough of him on screen and off (remember Franco’s fiasco as a co-host of the Oscar show a few years ago)?

Most of the apocalyptic movies we have seen tend to be of the horror-actioner-disaster type, an overused genre of late. Nonetheless, the fact that “This Is the End” came out of the studio system shows how loose mainstream fare has become over the past decade as far as crass lingo, vulgarity of any sort, and graphic sex are concerned.

The filmmakers show good command of the conventions, codes, and devices of the comedy and horror genres, resulting in a raunchy parody, sort of a spoof made from the inside, which should be enjoyed by young viewers.

Most of the actors are graduates of the Judd Apatow comedy factory, and so it is encouraging to see a feature that is not in the least imitative of the maestro’s work. Here and there, there are touches of the Apatow prototypical bromances, but “This Is the End” goes way beyond it–call it cinema of excess for excess sake.

Wild, vulgar, and raunchy as it is, “This Is the End” is not mindless, and in the course of various adventures, some of which are too unbelievable to describe on paper, the filmmakers test the limits of friendship, the meaning of redemption (both personal and collective), positive and negative changes in group dynamics under the most extreme circumstances. It’s yet another variation of a classic coming of age American saga, except that the characters in this movie are thirtysomething instead of the more usual teenagers and twentysomething.

Marking Rogen and Goldberg’s directorial debut, “This Is the End” lacks technical polish, but the raw, unvarnished style fits well the film’s main subject and its more specific concerns.

Much as it tries to bring beautiful femmes into their world, “This Is the End” is ultimately and essentially a boys movie, offering a milieu in which, despite their age, young men can still swear, fight, talk about their penises and sexual habits (jerking off being the most prominent) just like adolescents do.

Deliberately movieish, “This Is the End” is self-conscious and self-referential, occasionally outrageous comedy about the end of the world. It’s the kind of anarchic yet not entirely undisciplined picture the venerable Marx brothers would have approved of.