The evolution of comedy is something to behold. To see its maturation, and at the same time its disintegration of morals and common decency, over the years, it’s amazing the things that still make us laugh. Like the playful wordplay of the Marx Brothers (A Night at the Opera); seeing a fight erupt in the War Room at the height of the Cold War (Dr. Strangelove); a group of cowboys sitting around a campfire making a symphony of flatulence (Blazing Saddles); or June Cleaver speaking jive (Airplane). Nowadays, the big, hit comedies are the ones that try to push the envelope with situational humor and gross-out gags. It’s the reason why we are hesitant about letting our date for the evening borrow some dangling hair gel (There’s Something About Mary), or why we should be wary of eating Brazilian food from a hole-in-the-wall restaurant before a bridal fitting (Bridesmaids).
This summer’s This Is the End is an audacious – and that’s putting it bluntly – comic romp with a bunch of actors we’ve seen countless times before performing to varying results. To some it will be seen as a…Oh god is that another Seth Rogen comedy? Others will roll their eyes at James Franco (and if not Franco, maybe Jonah Hill, or Danny McBride). But here’s the thing: It’s one of the funniest films you’re likely to encounter this year. And that’s just judging it on the surface level where things get wild and crazy fast and don’t stop until the credits roll one hundred minutes later.
If you had no idea that the film’s concept was inspired by the 2007 short, Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse, you’d assume that it was another comedy from the Judd Apatow underlings who he helped mature in front of and behind the camera thanks to shows like Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared. While This Is the End is still a juvenile comedy, it doesn’t have the needless extra padding that seems to plague Apatow’s comedies. What it does have is a concept that is able to extend beyond its stunt of having actors play themselves (well, a version of themselves). That’s the running joke: to see how the actors act when the camera isn’t rolling. Who knew Michael Cera loved cocaine and slapping Rihanna’s fanny that much.
So we know the “Seth” of Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse, but “Jay” is lesser known. That would be Jay Baruchel, who some may remember from She’s Out of My League or as the voice of Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon. He’s the least known of the starring ensemble, so of course he’s the impish character, playing the guy that only wants to hang out with best bud Rogen and not deal with the rest of the entourage that congregate at a party at James Franco’s house. It’s a party that would make Entourage’s Johnny Drama envious with the likes of Emma Watson (that’s Harry Potter’s Hermoine to you), Jason Segel, Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Kevin Hart, for starters.
Taking that basic set-up of a guy just wanting some bro-time with his best friend it morphs into an end-of-the-world scenario with some major meta-humor included. This Is the End is clearly intended as a vanity project from first-time directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Having previously collaborated on the screenplays for Superbad and Pineapple Express, the duo has a working knowledge of what clicks, even if the story lacks cohesion. Seriously, this is a sketch comedy movie but still containing the three-act structure of Jay and Seth’s friendship during those perilous few days where the world ends.
There’s a couple of developing stories going on. One is the survival aspect of having the party survivors holed up in Franco’s house and the struggles they incur. Secondly, and most surprising, is the bromance between Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen’s characters, and the importance of friendship in spite of success. Baruchel, while the least recognized/most forgettable of the ensemble, can at the very least gloat that he was in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. Jay is pretty much a Hollywood outsider, a Canadian-born actor who just doesn’t want to deal with the rigmarole that comes with success. He is our gateway to the story; we envision ourselves in his shoes.
To some, life is a highway, but for this comedy group, life is one big party. So to have the end of the world occur during one just seems so metaphorical in its depiction. During the fallout of the apocalypse, it allows them play off one another doing everything from making a sequel to Pineapple Express to performing an exorcism.
As funny as most of these guys are, Danny McBride is the standout. He upstages everyone in every scene that he’s in. McBride is the counterpart to the group, not afraid to put Rogen in his place for doing the Green Hornet movie (interestingly enough, both that film and This Is the End are released by Sony Pictures). McBride is the supreme antagonist, generating tension and a little brutality.
The cast is good overall, even if Seth Rogen’s “character” seems to be the same man-child as always. At least Jonah Hill takes on an effeminate persona, and Franco isn’t afraid to play up his self-absorption. Jay Baruchel is the grounded one, understated yet comical. As for Craig Robinson, I’m not quite sure if his persona is all that much changed from real life.
This Is the End may be thin on story, but I applaud Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for making a meta-comedy that is on the surface funny as hell but upon inspection is a layered look at friendships and what happens when success gets in the way. Oh, and there’s that whole apocalypse thing.
When it comes to watching a ganja-smoking-celebrity-heavy-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it comedy, which this is, the question to answer first is “Is this my type of comedy?” If the answer is yes, the next question is “Will I laugh a lot?” The answer will depend on your feeling of the principal actors involved. But I’d say in terms of a laugh quotient what we have here is the frontrunner of 2013. Even if you causally enjoyed Rogen and Golberg’s previous collaborations you may want to give it a shot.
Directors: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Writers: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, based on the short “Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse”
Notable Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, countless others