Who would have ever expected Seth Rogen and writing/directing partner Evan Goldberg to write a faith-based film?
Okay, I'm exaggerating.
This is the End is not a faith-based film. While one could reasonably surmise that This is the End is actually the polar opposite and skewering faith and, more specifically, the notion of the Rapture, the truth is somewhere in the middle and while most Christians may not be willing to admit it Rogen and Goldberg have managed to create one of the funniest and most inspired comedies to come out of Hollywood in quite some time while also creating a remarkably insightful and intelligent film with a surprisingly strong theology wrapped like cellophane around a body of work filled to the brim with pop culture references, sex jokes, drugs, an abundance of raunchy humor, image twisting.
Yep, I'm going to say it. This is a film that will not only make you laugh out loud throughout most of its 110-minute running time, but it's a film that could easily be discussed in VERY open-minded Sunday School classes with its universal questions that are treated lightly and raunchily but with a tremendous amount of honesty and authenticity.
The actors in the film, and there are a lot of them, are mostly playing image-twisting variations of themselves. It may be tempting to compare This is the End to the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost comedy from 2011 Paul, a film more about aliens but very similar in terms of how it treated spirituality and seemingly poked considerable fun at Christianity and people of faith. While I have no clue whatsoever the spiritual backgrounds of Rogen or Goldberg, I wouldn't be completely surprised if the ideas that burst forth from This is the End are the same kinds of ideas they bat around at one another with the same rapid-fire intensity of their raunchiest comic bits. The two are longtime collaborators with films like Superbad and Pineapple Express under their belt, and that longtime collaborative history is evident from the film's comic cohesiveness and possession of a rhythm you simply can't fake. The film is actually based upon a 2007 short film written by Rogen/Goldberg called "Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse.")
It all kicks off with Jay Baruchel, the lesser known of the entire bunch which also serves as a bit of a running gag, arriving in L.A. from New York to visit Seth and apparently resolve some underlying issues. Seth, on the other hand, greets him with huge joints laid out spelling his name and clearly has his eye on partying over the weekend with the first destination to be the fortress like home of James Franco. It's also a running gag that Baruchel isn't particularly fond of Seth's newfound friends, all of whom have gathered at Franco's and include Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Azis Ansari, Mindy Kaling and a host of others. The party is everything you'd expect from a free-spirited party of young Hollywood up-and-comers who bounce between being party animals, pretentious a**holes, divas and schemers.
And that's just Michael Cera.
Everyone here plays wildly distorted variations of who the American public believes them to be, with Michael Cera's being the most ludicrously outrageous as the coked up playboy who's so out of it that when everything begins to go awry he's completely oblivious to it all. To describe the rest would be criminal, but suffice it to say that Rogen and Goldberg manage to take what amounts to a one-note joke and find ways to make it funny over and over and over again.
Eventually, Baruchel has had enough of the party and runs out with Rogen to pick up smokes when a mysterious blue light begins sucking people up into the skies. Before we know it, all hell has broken loose and sinkholes are popping up everywhere.
It's the Rapture, folks.
There's a pretty good chance that Christians of a more conservative persuasion would find all of this wildly offensive and even sacrilegious but, then again, how many conservative Christians are really going to go see a Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg film?
Amidst all the sexual humor, crude language, pop culture obsessions and more I found myself struck time and again by the freakishly Zen ways in which Rogen and Goldberg were asking really big questions and exploring possible answers.
Is it really ever too late to make things right?
Is doing "good deeds" enough?
What about the Golden Rule?
These may seem like simple questions, but in the world we live in where "Christians" can protest funerals of children and somehow connect that to "God hates fags" these kinds of questions remain as relevant as they've always been and, perhaps most surprisingly, I found myself almost absurdly resonating with this theology according to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg that declares that it's never too late to choose again BUT you do have to choose again. There's a remarkably simple scene towards the end of the film where one character has apparently made a choice that will allow him to escape what has become hell on earth, but before he can rise he makes an almost polar opposite choice.
Back down again.
Simple theology. Beautifully manifested. There's even a genuine effort to have the Rapture closely resemble that which is described in the book of Revelation. Seriously. Funny.
But, rest assured that This is the End is in no way a film about faith or Christianity or whatever. While Baruchel himself even quotes scripture in the film, the film may be more than anything a lesson in humility for its A-listers and their rather messed up cinematic fraternity. Perhaps the coolest thing about the film is that it truly does have a little bit of everything. The relationship between Franco and Rogen is by far the funniest thing in the film, while Rogen and Baruchel provide the most thought-provoking and insightful moments. Craig Robinson gives the film a delightful and emotionally honest core, while Danny McBride gives the film its edge. Emma Watson adds some wonderful feminine energy to the film, while there are cameos sprinkled throughout the film that are for the most part perfectly timed and hilariously written.
It's truly a wonder that This is the End avoided an NC-17 rating not because it actually deserved it, but because the normally prudish MPAA can't ordinarily handle a film this edgy, raw and offensive without taking their editing pen to it. Kudos to my buddies at KNB Effects for the film's special effects, while D.P. Brandon Trost lenses the film with a rather light touch that seemingly delights in the improvisational antics of this cohesive cast. Henry Jackman's original score is fun with a hint of cheesy and an occasional basting of melancholy.
With Paul, it felt like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were creating an offbeat story while genuinely poking fun at those of the Christian faith. With This is the End, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have created a film that mostly makes fun of the real life characters in the film while making them accountable for the choices they make in this life.
Then, they throw out a life preserver and say "It's never too late."
So, you could waste your time and see yet another special effects-laden superhero flick this weekend that is woefully less than super or you could choose again and venture into a genuinely edgy, funny, spirited, insightful and intelligent comedy that fires on all cylinders and never lets up until the closing credits have rolled.
It's your choice. Choose wisely.
Or there will be hell to pay.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic