15 June 2013

First Impressions: This is the End

In a weekend that contains a certain Man of Steel hitting the big screen again, there is another film we should all focus our attention on. That is the fantasmic This is the End (2013). This is the flat-out craziest, funniest, most thoroughly insane film all year, and maybe of all time. In other words, this was an incredibly fun time sent at the cinema. Let this be a discussion of the film's merits, so needless to say, SPOILERS from here on out, folks.
"You're the Green Goblin, you can afford it."

The trick to enjoying This is the End, though, is to a have a full understanding and love of the Apatow Gang of James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride. The majority of the film involves these six dudes dealing with the apocalypse, and the film derives the majority of its humour from sending up their public perceptions.

The results is pretty damn fascinating. The movie plays with the constructs we have formed after years of growing familiar with these actors, and they end up playing fictionalized caricatures of the people we think they are. This gives the film an inside spin - it's always a voyeuristic thrill to spy on the personal lives of celebrities, but this takes it a bit further, giving them each a tremendous amount of personal and psychological problems (some very dangerous), mostly with the understanding that everyone is too narcissistic to realise it. There is this bait and tug with the audience that uses our own expectations and cultural mitosis of these guys to enhance the film and provide most of the laughs. We feel as if we understand their relationships well already - it's very clear that this is a passion project that everyone has joined in on - to rip those perceptions apart in front of us (among many other things) is a real treat.

Each character is essentially a riff on their own public image. The film eventually acknowledges this very directly in the form of a rant from Danny McBride as he leaves the house. First we have Jay Baruchel, who is our entry way into this crazy world. Jay is probably the most unknown of this bunch, and it works that he's our skeptical lens through which to view the chaos that unfolds. He is also riffing his earnest, know-it-all character from flicks like Million Dollar Baby (2004) and moreso, Tropic Thunder (2008). His best bud, Seth Rogen is depicted largely as someone who used to be like Jay but has now "sold out" to Hollywood. He's still the Best Friend anyone could have, although his major issue is that he stretches his friends too thin.

James Franco is an art snob pretty boy who, despite his status as the most successful of all the friends, desperately tries to maintain a relationship with Seth Rogen that borders on obsessive. Craig Robinson has a bit of edge but is mostly a big softie. He also constantly carries a towel for some reason. Jonah Hill is a stuck-up two-faced asshole who literally becomes a vessel of Satan. I'm not sure how that is riffing on Jonah, but it may have something to do with the fact that he's the only Oscar nominee out of this mangly crew. Finally, Danny McBride is suitably legendary in his apathy, immorality, and general insanity, eventually becoming the leader of a gang of cannibals, with Channing Tatum as his gimp lover. Considering that C-Tates is getting to become the biggest star in this movie (and he was likely pulled in due to his relationship with Jonah Hill), his cameo ends up being one of the more ridiculous.

The relationships between all these guys couldn't play out better in an Apocalyptic scenario. Jonah Hill and Jay Baruchel hate each other but try to cover it up. Jay and Seth are best friends but have been growing apart. Craig Robinson is essentially neutral, but ends up forming a bit of an alliance with Jay. James Franco hates Danny McBride, which culminates in a screaming match about jizzing on each other's faces and walls. Actually it culminates in McBride eating Franco's face. Literally. McBride gets two of the best entrances in movie history, along with a pretty damn good exit. He first appears as a stowaway who crashed the party uninvited and spent the night smoking in the bathtub, with the camera focusing only on his boots and his spliff. He then leaves the house after trying to kill everyone, backing up into the Hell outside, double-deucing with a sly knowledge that the uncivilized world is really best for him. He later appears again in a slow reveal as the Cannibal Leader, wearing part of a human skull as his crown. Danny really steals this show.

Fly like paper

You've really got to love these guys to love this film. More importantly, though, you also really need to love Pineapple Express (2008). The principal cast reunites four leads from Pineapple Express and it's clear that they have a strong adoration for that film, and are also relying on their audience to share that sentiment. I do love Pineapple Express, so it worked for me. Their fake Pineapple Express 2 trailer was a genius bit of marketing, but within This is the End, that whole trailer is actually created out of props from James Franco's house. It's spectacular and just about the closest to a sequel we're ever going to get. It's also extremely satisfying to finally hear M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" actually being used on screen, after it became so popular from the Pineapple Express trailer, but went unused in the film itself. It's practically the damn theme song at this point.

In this way, This is the End almost works as a series of interconnected sketches. It will become very re-watchable scene by scene. Some of the best are "Let's Do All the Drugs!" and "The Exorcism of Jonah Hill", which even gets a title card. That latter bit had a perfect bit of very Jonah Hill-like acting ("The power of Christ compels you!" "Does it? Does it compel me?") with a big scary Satanic voice. Before this we get a fairly horrifying Satanic rape scene in which the Beast implants his evil into Jonah after the latter wishes for God to kill Jay Baruchel. This would only be the first of two giant demonic penises, though, and the next one literally towers over the boys in Los Angeles.

Or should I say Hell? The Apocalypse as predicted in the Book of Revelation strikes the City of Angels, and the whole thing is really laid to waste. There is an incredibly creepy and tense atmosphere after the sinkholes start to emerge. Part of this film's success is its ability to induce laughs, terror, uncomfortableness, and a warm happy glow within the span of about an hour. It is thoroughly consistent tonally while doing this nonsense, and despite the general wretchedness of the characters, we're still kind of rooting for them. Because they're celebrities.

It's a pretty damn keen observation that no one at James Franco's party notices the Rapture because no one at the party is beamed up to Heaven. It's a great commentary on the selfish self-importance that celebrities have (or we perceive them to have - this film also doesn't work unless we buy into the fact that hard partying celebrities are really a pieces of shit. But we still kind of want to be them - so the whole thing exists in this nebulous zone that the film just kills). From Jonah Hill's insistence that during disasters, celebrities are saved first to James Franco's contention that they should earn a spot in Heaven after entertaining people, the delusions here are on a grand scale.
"Is it? Is it compelling?"

Simultaneously, though, and this is where the meta kicks in - the mere fact that all these actors are admitting this stuff seems to indicate that they're aware of it and on some level exist beyond it. It's notable that there aren't any big cameos by very serious actors, instead it is mostly comedians (with Rihanna, Emma Watson, and C-Tates thrown in there) who are pretty OK with poking fun at not only themselves, but their entire lifestyle. I mean, the vast majority of celebrities die here. And go to Hell. South Park has done that for years, but here the celebs are playing themselves. This twist ends up bringing us even further into the film because we grow more comfortable knowing that none of these actors take themselves seriously. It creates a very transparent and intimate film experience.

On that note, let's talk about Michael Cera. Of all the fictionalized characters in this film, Ceratops is by far the craziest. He's on screen for a very small amount of time, but he skewers his public image as a soft meek little dude (which is especially fresh in our minds after repeated viewings of new Arrested Development episodes) and instead acts completely insane and coked out of his mind. It's fitting that he gets the first death, and possibly the most gruesome (Franco's might take that cake, actually), and he's still an asshole while impaled. Yet, even though he proves himself in less than four minutes that he's the biggest jackass on the planet, that first death is still a little jarring. Such is the majesty of This is the End.

So grab your Milky Ways and CT Crunch and prepare for the end of days along with the best movie of the year.

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