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This Is The End: Everybody!

June 13, 2013

Comedy is an art form that exists in particular moments.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t timeless jokes, or classic comedic works. I would say though, that even famous jokes or premises get reworked through the ages simply because their trappings speak to a previous period in time. Certainly I would be a fool to suggest that The Pot of Gold is not a simple use of the ‘miser,’ stock character that could have been written at any time. However, its setting is distinctly tied to Rome and Roman culture. Of course, there’s plenty of evidence that suggests most “Roman,” plays we know are merely Roman adaptations of Greek plays that the Romans found particularly humorous.

“The Aristocrats,” one of the most well known jokes of the 20th century varies from telling to telling and has updated with the times. Some comedians have suggested that in the modern age, it’s better to take a different tact than the original attempt to gross the audience out. Lisa Lampanelli, for example, likes to tell a version that plays with racial stereotypes.

We might even have bits that we all remember and comedians certainly have jokes that they’re known for. Still, by the time he died, most of George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television were being widely used across the airwaves. Airlines do still ask you to get on the plane instead of in the plane though.

The reason that I take a moment to reflect on this concept though, is because when I finished watching This Is The End, a film about several actors playing fictionalized versions of themselves during an apocalypse, my first thought was, “This was great but it will never hold up to the sands of time.” I then paused, realizing just how strange it really was to examine a comedic film in that matter.

Few comedies have withstood the passage of time. The few that come to mind do so because they’ve been increasingly referenced in other comedies. They become no longer their own works but the originators of famous scenes that we tip our hats to. I sometimes think of Fast Times At Ridgemont High as a good example of a film that stands well on its own even thirty years later. However, the sense of adolescence it captures is tied to a very distinct period of American cultural history, with the connection and relatability of its story becoming more and more tenuous the further you are from 1982. Surely within another few years, with the way technology is rapidly changing our society, teenagers may very well begin to find it… passe.

However, you’re probably not interested in the fate of Fast Times. After all, Fast Times isn’t in theaters this week but This Is The End is.

Before I dig into it with any spoilers, I will give you my final verdict: This is a movie worth watching. It makes you laugh, it has some solid moments, a few great twists, and a positively hilarious ending. The second act drags a little but on the whole, I can forgive the movie for that. Like I said, it’s not a movie you’ll make your kids watch to complete their cultural education but it’s a fun ride.

Spoilers and a slightly more in depth discussion after the break.

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I think the first thing I really want to say off the bat, is that after watching Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness it felt really good to watch a movie that rewarded me for paying attention and being familiar with the work of the actors and the team behind the scenes. Truly, a breath of fresh air to enjoy my nerdiness rather than feel like I’m being punished for it. The whole movie is peppered with references, cameos, and all sorts of little winks and nods. Even some clear homages make their way into the film.

I will admit though that as the movie began, I had to fight back a groan. While I do love references, for a lot of the first act there are few true jokes with a set up and a punch. Most of the jokes boil down to referencing things you know, or playing with your perceptions of the famous people playing themselves (with Michael Cera being the main offender in this camp). Some of it is good for a cheap laugh but it doesn’t really seem to have much going for it. That seems to be the way of the Judd Apatow school of comedy movies though, a slow first act full of cheap laughs, dick and fart jokes and then the introduction of something that suddenly changes the premise of the whole movie.

In this case, the Biblical apocalypse.

I think the choice of the actual Biblical Apocalypse was a nice touch on their part. Especially they way they dismiss it for most of the film. Particularly when Emma Watson, who flat out steals every scene in which she appears, states something along the lines of, “I know what this is. It’s a Zombie Invasion.” Everyone simply nods along, while Jay (the closest thing this film manages to an everyman) is blown away by how easily everyone just accepts ‘zombies,’ as the answer. This also sets up several good jokes in the film, as well as several of its more surprising elements.

The thing that I found surprising about the movie was its use of action and jump scares. The true nature of the apocalypse starts to become apparent to the cast when Jonah Hill becomes possessed attacking Seth and James while Jay and Craig encounter a demon in a neighbor’s posh mcmansion. The creature designs are par for the course, not only looking good but often having some humor as well (normally in the form of a dick joke). The action is quick, well composed, and interesting while continuing to build our investment in the characters and what’s happening to them.

The movie ends in an ultimately feel good way, though it still has a little bite in James Franco’s failure to ascend to Heaven. I had a small hope that the film might end on a complete down note, as much of the movie plays with the fact that they aren’t good people that perhaps don’t deserve to be saved and how people would deal with that. However, the ending more than makes up for it.

At the end of it all, my only real complaint is that the second act has sections that I felt could have used the axe. The movie begins to feel a bit too self-indulgent at times, which is never good especially for something that is quite clearly a vanity project already. I will commend them on avoiding that feeling for the movie’s key points but the second act has several scenes that just seem unnecessary.

If you can look past that though, I think you will really enjoy This Is The End.

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