Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Seth Rogen, more than most comic leading men of his generation, always seems to end up playing himself, for good or ill. From Knocked Up to Pineapple Express to even The Green Hornet, it’s hard to believe that the characters Rogen plays aren’t just named Seth Rogen. His persona, that of a eternally laid-back, chubby, lovable, but somewhat soft pothead, isn’t hard to spot even if his character is a rich playboy or a struggling stand-up comic. And so perhaps it’s fitting that in his newest movie, This is the End, possibly the best he’s headlined and easily the funniest film of 2013 to date, Rogen literally does play himself, leading to gleeful results.
Outside of omitting his real-life marriage, Rogen does play himself—a paparazzo in the opening scene mocks his signature deep, guttural laugh—as does almost every other actor in the film. At the start, Rogen meets up with longtime pal Jay Baruchel, flying in from Canada, for a weekend of pot, video games, pizza, and other hang-out standbys. Jay’s not a fan of Seth’s Hollywood friends, so he’s displeased when he’s dragged to James Franco’s housewarming party, filled only with famous faces and hangers-on. But the goofy fun of this party, populated with plenty of recognizable comic actors like Mindy Kaling, Michael Cera, and Paul Rudd, comes to an abrupt halt when the Biblical version of the apocalypse hits fast and hits hard. All that’s left in Franco’s house are Seth, Jay, James, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride, trying desperately to survive with what little supplies and real-world skills they possess. For a little while, they goof off, but eventually, this sextet realizes that they’re stuck with each other, which might be even more challenging than the fiery hordes at their door.
The friendship-as-romance has been the foundation of at least half of the comedies of the last decade, and are certainly the bedrock of the Judd Apatow brand. Two buddies have to renew their bonds as BFFs when they go undercover at a high school, or as they make decisions about where they’ll go to college, or as they become unwilling step brothers, or when one of them is preparing to get married. Considering that these are the stakes in so many sprawling, absurdist, drug-fueled vehicles, why not use a fractured friendship as the backdrop for a high-concept tale about a bunch of celebrities scrambling to survive as the apocalypse arrives? Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg, who co-wrote and co-directed the film, manage to balance the outrageous and the grounded here fairly well, thanks in no small part to Baruchel being a fine audience surrogate, a standoffish leading man whose distaste for the Hollywood lifestyle is proven right almost instantly.
This is the End is, as you might expect, exceptionally raunchy and profane. Though Judd Apatow isn’t involved, it’s easy to see his influence. Much of the fun of This is the End is in watching these actors, as well as other stars like a coked-out Cera and tough-minded Emma Watson, mock their public personas as well as the stereotypes we may hold about people who make movies. But Baruchel’s performance sells the necessary emotion laced throughout the film. Seth’s friends are not Jay’s, he claims, even as they’re forced to get closer while hellish demons wreak havoc outside. The splintered friendship between these two goofballs, fairly close to that of a couple in a standard-issue romantic comedy, is something of a clothesline on which to hang a series of consistently hilarious setpieces and gags, but Baruchel and Rogen play it so well, it doesn’t matter that there’s not a deeper exploration of Jay’s self-righteousness or Seth’s sellout career.
Honestly, the script is so sharp—and one that doesn’t appear to be weighed down by excessive improvising—that the pathos never feels forced, and neither do the many, consistently hilarious jokes. One of This is the End’s strengths is that it doesn’t rely too heavily on celebrity cameos, instead giving each of the six men stuck in this big, cool new house enough room to riff as they establish themselves with at least one identifiable, if nutty, trait: Jonah is the shallowest of the shallow, Danny is a raging id, Craig is nice but easily frightened, and so on. The many tangents that Rogen and Goldberg create for these scared man-children to travel down (such as a Pineapple Express sequel, which is a highlight) are delightfully unexpected and frequently funny. Better still, the story feels fresh throughout because of the variety of these setpieces, as warped and twisted as the actors inside of them.
It’s been a couple of years since Seth Rogen was part of a top-to-bottom successful comedy, and maybe one of the best parts of This is the End is that he’s just as aware of this fact as we are. The ideal audience member is familiar with each of its stars. He or she knows that James Franco wasn’t just in Spider-Man or 127 Hours, but even the long-forgotten Flyboys. This person remembers that Jonah Hill is no longer a goofy comedian, but an Oscar nominee. And so on. This is the End is an unflagging and brilliant comedy, and its greatest asset may be its self-awareness, manifested through the central duo’s relationship. Oh, if you come for the pot humor, the foul language, or the comic gore, you’ll be satisfied. Equally as strong is the way Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel play off each other, the shaky foundation of their once-tight kinship all that they can hold onto as the Rapture commences. Like many of the best recent comedies, This is the End is memorable not just for its laughs, but because of its overarching theme: friendship will save you from yourself.
— Josh Spiegel