Sunday, June 16, 2013
"THIS IS THE END" Of My Complacency
First, go read this. It's not very long, and it's information you'll be glad you have. Linda Holmes really rocks it sometimes.
And now we're going to talk about This Is The End. I guess I'll say that there might be spoilers? Insofar as a movie like This Is The End can have spoilers, since it's not really about anything and other than the world ending, nothing really happens. And that's in the title. Anyway, I'll be talking about the movie as someone who has seen the movie, so if that bothers you don't click the jump.
I'll start by saying that the first 20 minutes of This Is The End are fantastic. I saw it in a theater full of people on opening night, and it was solid laughs for that entire time. It's actors we know and love (and Rihanna) making fun of themselves and providing some hilarious satire on life in LA as they know it. It's exaggerated for effect, but the effect works well during the initial party scene at James Franco's house.
And then the Rapture happens. And things immediately get more disgusting than they ever needed to be. The level of gore in this movie is forcefully nauseating over and over and over again, as if Evan Goldberg was watching too much of Tenacious D's old HBO show and thought, "What if we take the most viscerally off-putting parts of this, make them even worse, and do it for two hours?" I honestly can't tell you some of the most horrifying bits of the movie because I thankfully had my eyes closed for most of them, but decapitation, impalement, murderous blunt force trauma, and cannibalism all play a part. The laughs in the audience dwindled as the extended scenes of violent gore became discomfiting and awkward. This was not what everyone signed up for.
A brief tangent to say that I am not opposed to gore as a tool of comedy, but it has to be done WELL. My scale goes from (1) seeing Brad Pitt get shot in the face in Burn After Reading (traumatizing and unnecessary) to (5) John McClane shooting Marco's knees off from under the table in Die Hard (fist-pumpingly awesome. I'm a fan of squibs.) with Monty Python somewhere in the middle. This Is The End gets a 1.5 because I liked when the demon got his dick cut off.
Aside from brief appearances at the beginning from Mindy Kaling and Rihanna, the only other real female presence in the movie is Emma Watson, who shows up long enough for a rape joke scene, steals their stuff to further the plot, and then leaves. The rest of the movie is wall-to-wall sausage, an attempt to recapture the twisted buddy comedy of Pineapple Express and twist it even farther. But at least Pineapple Express had Rosie Perez and other actual female characters.
The parts of the movie that really work are the moments between Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen where they're dealing with their friendship. This Is The End takes a lot of cues from Bridesmaids on the "what to do when your friendship evolves?" side of things. And Baruchel and Rogen are both actors I enjoy, and certainly my favorite out of the six main cast members (the others being James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride). But, there's too much self-indulgent nonsense, too many scenes that reek of being done simply because they COULD be done. Rogen and Goldberg talk proudly about the many improvised scenes, but the problem is that many of those scenes don't feel movie-ready. They feel like some guys, albeit some funny guys, hanging out. We'll get back to this in a minute, but with this particular group of actors it seems when you leave the joke-making up to them, what you get are some pretty lazy jokes. The plot is weak, the climax isn't climatic...and despite my joy at seeing the Backstreet Boys back at it (alright!), the ending feels tacked on, like an unearned afterthought, where one good thought can get you into heaven and boom, some of them are in Heaven together and it's a huge party hooray!
I'm interested in the Heaven side of things, since (and who knows what Rogen and Goldberg believe, but they're both outspoken about being Jewish) Judaism does not recognize the existence of a heaven or a hell. I'm sure there's a reason they chose a Rapture-type apocalypse, and I'd be interested in finding out what it is (update: I read an interview with them from the AV Club where they talk about it being inspired by their fear of Christianity and violent biblical imagery, which...ok, that's kind of cool). I, for one, am not really into either demons or moralizing and so in terms of types of apocalypse, Rapture is far from my favorite. I would have been much more interested in an actual catastrophic earthquake hitting LA and James Franco not being prepared for any emergencies and to see the comedy that comes from being stuck in that situation without the added ridiculousness of demonic possession or whatever fucking non-human sociopath Danny McBride was playing.
But then, I am a woman, and I am interested in human relationships more than seeing grown men pretend to play soccer with Brian Huskey's head (shout out to Brian Huskey for being great, though. Regular-Sized Rudy 4 LIFE). And maybe it's because I'm a woman, or because I'm me and I notice these things, but once the jokes stopped being Hollywood satire, they became almost entirely rooted in sexism and homophobia. When McBride leaves the house to go become the leader of a cannibal gang (ugh, you guys, come on) (at least they didn't make the black guy the cannibal) he gives them all parting insults: Twat, Cunt, Cocksucker. You would think these highly paid writers and acclaimed comedic actors would be able to come up with some curses that weren't offensive terms for women (or gay men)...especially when the entire premise of the movie is already sexist (out of the whole party only these six men survived the initial disaster and the one woman who shows up is only there so they can argue about whether or not they're going to rape her). Learning that much of the scenes were improvised clarifies the origin of this issue - these guys, as much as I might love some of the things that they have done, are used to getting laughs from this type of easy, lazy comedy. Call a grown man a fucking twat! Hilarious. Yet another scene where a man is freaked out by physical intimacy with another man! Well, it worked the other thirty times we've done it, why not?
Ultimately it's disappointing not only because perpetuating this type of bullshit is fucking disappointing, but because I've been a fan of these Apatow kids since forever, and I want to continue to be fans of theirs. But I also should remember just how little I like their movies compared to the awesomeness of Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared. 40-Year-Old Virgin? Eh. Knocked Up? NO THANK YOU. Superbad is fucking awesome, but suffered a little from too much in-casting. I do really like Funny People, mostly because of Aziz and Jason Schwartzman. Never even saw This Is 40 because I fucking hate Leslie Mann and the one shrewish character she plays. F&G and Undeclared were shows that balanced the male and female perspective remarkably well, and it's pretty obvious that as Apatow got bigger (and stopped working with Paul Feig, who...LOVE. All the love for Paul Feig.) he became far more wrapped up in the dominant male voice that the Linda Holmes article so neatly laid out for us. Part of this is the fault of the Hollywood system, one so deeply rooted in sexism and the dominance of the straight white male that it's difficult to tell a story that's NOT about that...but the blame also lies on Rogen and Goldberg and Apatow and the rest of the stars of the movie. They should know better. They can do better. Imagine what a more interesting movie This Is The End would be if McBride's totally flat, uninterestingly evil character and Jonah Hill's who-the-fuck-even-knows-what-was-up-with-him-here-because-he-wasn't-funny-at-all character had been replaced by, say, Busy Phillips and Aubrey Plaza. Imagine if more of the jokes had been thoughtfully written so that the movie didn't feel like hanging out with your 30-something cousin who never finished college and works in Game Stop and complains about women who don't even know what version of Assassin's Creed they're looking for. Imagine these men - men with a ton of power and clout to make whatever the fuck they want to make - actually thought about making a movie with the intention of reaching men AND women AND thirteen-year-old boys.
Because there is a way to do that. There is a way to make hilarious, gross, captivating, and original comedic movies that don't just pander to the lowest common denominator, and there is a way to make movies that those monetarily crucial audiences will love without teaching them that it's cool to bash people's heads in or casually toss around the word "cunt". There is a way to make a buddy comedy that includes men and women being friends. I expected more from these guys...but judging from my twitter feed, they're getting such positive reinforcement that the next movie will only be worse. The state of sexism in Hollywood is fucking deplorable, guys. What we need are men to stand up and recognize the flaws and work to change them. And by we, I don't just mean women - I mean HUMANITY.
Image via Geeks Of Doom