It’s happened to all of us at one point or another: you’ll be innocently sitting there – you know, breathing – when a film that you would never have chosen on your own – too mainstream, not mainstream enough, wrong genre, actors, whatever – suddenly pops into your life and blows your mind. This is the film that lands in the back corner of a DVD-rental and collects dust, waiting for you to discover it, years after its release.
I’m a magnet for these films. I’ve made it my mission to share them with you.
The Gloriously Unexpected, #1: ‘This Is The End’ (2013)
by Gillian Kerruish
I was writing an intelligent and incisive piece about AI in film; I was dead-set on making my debut in the op-ed world with a well-rounded, witty, verbal assault on one of mankind’s deepest, darkest fears. And then: insomnia – that static cloud of exhaustion-addled white noise – dropped in for a cuppa; I found myself channel-hopping on the local broadcasting network at 3am. Lulled into a compliant state by the unpopulated silence outside my flat, I let the opening credits roll over me and realised that, for the first time in many a year I was watching a Seth Rogan/James Franco film.
To clarify: I was spoon-fed on the likes of Monty Python, Billy Connelly, and Black Adder, and weaned on Terry Pratchett and Spitting Image; I’ll admit a weakness for spoofs, but my enjoyment of comedy flows strongest with biting wit, dark sarcasm, and sardonic understatement. To be perfectly blunt: a Rogan/Franco collaboration is something I’ve learned to avoid, because, on the rare occasion that I’ve been forced to watch, I end up with the feeling that quite a lot of the plot was hashed out after a lot of grade A pharmaceuticals.
But insomnia insisted I put the TV remote down, so I drowned my misgivings in coffee and waited for the onslaught. Boy, am I glad I did!
Set in modern-day Los Angeles, our story opens with Seth Rogan meeting Jay Baruchel at the airport. Wait, did I say ’Seth Rogan’ and ‘Jay Baruchel’? Why, yes I did!
To flip things up, all actors are portraying themselves! I am hooked like an overweight tuna: nothing more compelling than holding a magnifying glass up to the glitterati; some visceral need to ascertain whether or not these creatures, who exist in another galaxy, are in fact human. They don’t disappoint, spending the better part of a day catching up on news over a ton of snacks and a friendly puff or two (or three or six) of the giggle-twig.
From there our partially-baked heroes venture out to James Franco’s newly-built, earthquake-proof mansion, to attend a house-warming party more star-studded than the Pleiades cluster. By now I’m crowding my telly trying to figure out who’s who, and what they’re doing, and ignoring my fast-dwindling disdain. Our heroes are joined by Franco and Jonah Hill, and much drinking, snorting, indecent exposure, and catty back-biting ensues, rounded off with a musical entreaty to remove underwear, from the newest member of the band of heroes: Craig Robinson. So far, so banal. My morbid fascination waning, my finger hovers over the sleep button on my remote.
Enter the Plot – trapdoor, stage left.
Have you ever thought about the end of the World? Really thought about it? The multiple ways it could happen – Ice Age, nuclear holocaust, meteorite, Ragnarok, or full-on biblical Rapture and Armageddon – do not leave a whole lot of hope for survival. But in the event of any of the above, do you think you could gung-ho through it? I’d like to think I could manage the non-mystical stuff reasonably well, but we’ll never truly know until it’s too late. Good grief! Seth Rogan is actually making me think ‘what if?’! I officially love this film!
Clearly Rogan gave the matter a lot of thought, and discussion, and probably hallucinogens too – though at this point I don’t really care, because there’s a colossal sinkhole straight to Hell in Franco’s front yard and 90% of the party guests have just died in often-messy ways. That is, if they aren’t the chosen few being sucked into the sky with suspiciously familiar blue tractor beams. The effects are cheesy and low-budget, and I’m eating them up like 5-star hors d’oeuvres, because let’s face it: when it comes to a good old-fashioned demon infestation and divers alarums, who cares that they don’t look like Diablo from Suicide Squad?
I am not going to call this film ‘charming’ or ‘witty’ or any of those other adorable adjectives we save for rainy-day escapes. What I will call it, is honest. In the face of an Armaggedon rife with wingéd creatures straight out of an 18th-century grimoire, do our heroes rise to the occasion, girding their loins to do battle with the denizens of the Inferno? Of course not! They’re actors! What do they know about actual survival, ass-kicking, and evil beasties? About the same as a box of rocks, that’s what. So they hole up in Franco’s mansion, joined by previously-unconscious, party-crashing Danny McBride, who depletes their resources in one meal. Tensions run high, and for the first time I start seeing something closer to their real selves. The veneer of stardom is cracking wide open.
This doesn’t stop them from binging on more drugs, passing the time making home movies, logging Big Brother-style “video confessionals”, and making one or two penile jokes. (Who am I kidding? This is Franco/Rogan we’re talking about. Dick jokes are being strewn like confetti – including a ‘Dick Tent’ which I will leave to the imagination). The only thing stopping me from thinking they’ve reverted to juvenile ‘party’ mode is the occasional beheading, the Exorcism of Jonah Hill, having their asses handed to them by a diminutive, axe-wielding Emma Watson (whose brief, but sterling, performance is her best ever), and a shouting-match between Franco and McBride that leaves me wondering if they shouldn’t just get a room.
I’ll leave the rest of the story alone. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you do. It’s enjoyable on nearly every level, and the final scene will deliver a swift kick right to the pre-millenial adolescent feels – which is not as unpleasant as one would think.