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Featuring all the 25-35 year old actor/comedians you love.

I have a weird relationship with comedies. The SNL-alumni stuff is usually hit or miss for me. I also don’t think Apatow really knows what he’s doing anymore. But Apatow’s heirs apparent are probably Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. I have loved every movie they’ve written with the exception of The Green Hornet and their brand of comedy is one that really works for me. Part of this is the self-aware, tonally agile style of their movies. Part of it is Seth Rogen himself, as a lead actor in movies that frequently blend traditional broad comedy with occasional forays into other genres. The biggest part, though, is probably the themes that unite all their films. Every one of them is about friendship between men, running the gamut from the endearing and sweet (and homoerotic) to the kinds of drama men have (but is frequently unrepresented in TV and movies) and always, always hilarious. Every one of their movies has a warm, friendly core and an affable reality that grounds all the laughs in something that feels authentic, if not realistic.

This is what lets them get away with something like This is the End, which is a movie that probably shouldn’t work. Self-reference/parody is tricky to pull off with grace. It’s also one of the common measures taken by public figures who start to get stale or over-exposed. Rogen has experimented with roles that have been “against type” and probably will keep doing that. He probably doesn’t think of it in those terms and good for him if so. Here, however, he shows that he is totally aware of the potential tiredness of his “schtick” and the fickle nature of audiences who complain about a performer always seeming to come off as “the same guy” and yet line up to see it over and over. Rogen is not quite at the point where he hates us all (as Adam Sandler undoubtedly does), and This is the End suggests that he may never get there. Good, I say. I like the guy, I like his brand, and I never get tired of it.

In spite of its bottle-episode structure, This is the End functions well as a survival/apocalypse story even as it spends most of its energy on the character-derived comedy all these guys are so fucking gifted at. By the last twenty minutes, This is the End has morphed into an epic which is both surprising and unsurprising at the same time. You trust these guys to pull something like that off, but you’re still amazed when they do it.

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Shit, the Jesus freaks were right!

As everybody knows, this is one of those movies where the actors all play themselves. Of course they aren’t really playing themselves. Instead, each one is heightened or skewed in ways that are funny, self-referential, and above all self-aware. The point starts off being “how would these guys react to the apocalypse?” and ends up being just as much about how they react to their own images. This is more relevant for some, like James Franco, than others because they don’t all have equal public exposure. Skewering those personae is a project of the movie, though, showing that all these guys have a huge sense of humor about everything up to and including the end of the world but especially about themselves.

Seth Rogen is enjoying the lifestyle and relationships his success has brought to him. He has a bunch of friends in L.A., many of whom made in the Apatow days and others from his more recent work. Jay Baruchel is his oldest friend, though, and they’ve been growing apart recently due to pretentiousness and obliviousness on both their parts. It takes a long time for the movie to really equalize the relationship so for most of it, Jay just seems like a whiny anti-social dick.

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Though part of the point the movie makes is that, when the chips are down, friendship is all that really matters.

He thinks the affable, positive Seth has sold out and changed too much. He hates the L.A. entitled lifestyle, he hates L.A., and he may even be starting to hate Seth. However, they are all set up to have a weekend together to hang out and rekindled the friendship after almost a year apart doing their own things. While we do see Rogen doing dickish things to Jay for the sake of his new friendships, we spend way too much time watching Jay Baruchel act like a brat to really fault him. The bad relationship is a bit one-sided and I think they probably intended it to be more equal in terms of blame for its problems. But I wouldn’t say the way it all comes together is unearned. I was actually a bit surprised that they were willing to go so far into douchey territory with Jay, risking any audience sympathy for the guy. That may be partly based on sensitivity to his reluctance to hang out with Seth Rogen’s L.A. friends, who we know (and Seth explains) are a collection of actors and comedians that the audience already adores.

Of course, Seth drags Jay to a party at James Franco’s house and the apocalypse happens. This has a way of complicating their plans but also forcing them to confront the ways they’ve been dicks to each other and why they should bro down and hug up.

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The elite survivors.

Though the first act features a bunch of cameos, some small and others larger, they pretty much all die before the movie switches from awkward party scenario to “how do these idiots survive the end of the world?” scenario. It would be silly to list off all the cameos but most of them are funny. The highlights are Michael Cera and (much later) Channing Tatum. Cera probably plays the most ridiculously extreme version of himself and this because he dies first when the apocalypse actually hits. Before that, we see him snorting coke and macking ladies and getting slapped hard by Rihanna. Cera nicely summarizes the way this movie is willing to send up aspects of these guys for weirdness and laughs. There’s no way Michael Cera is as creepy and incorrigible as he appears here, but there’s this box people put him, as a performer and personality, into. That box no longer exists.

Now for Channing Tatum. Though he’s only in it for a second, the interplay with Danny McBride and the way the movie sets up and pays off both Tatum’s inclusion and McBride’s character arc is just staggeringly brilliant. It’s the funniest thing in an incredibly funny movie.

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Glorious.

This is the End could easily have been these actors playing roles. Instead, there’s another layer to the approach of having them play exaggerated or parody versions of themselves. It’s playing off the sense people have from seeing these guys so much and often in similar roles that they know who they are. There’s an idea of who James Franco is based on an amalgamation of interviews, public appearances, roles, and factoids about him that makes people think they know who the guy is. And a lot of people don’t like that guy. Franco gets called out a lot, and is an especially favored target in this movie. His capacity for self-mockery goes way beyond everyone else. Interestingly, Evan Goldberg told the press that he was the only person besides Seth who never said “that’s going too far” in terms of skewering their public image. I can’t imagine what else they could have asked Michael Cera or Danny McBride to do that goes much further than what we see here.

As the fellowship of buffoons go into lockdown in Franco’s kitschy house, Jay tries to point out that this is the actual rapture and maybe they can still be saved if they redeem themselves in the eyes of god. Meanwhile, they deal with the challenges of food and water shortage, getting tired of each others’ shit, and dealing with the anarchic Danny McBride. McBride plays a version of his Kenny Powers character (from Eastbound and Down) that is unleashed by the apocalypse, rather than humbled by it. He reacts to the desperate nature of their situation with no fucks to give. Once he walks out on them, the movie has a void to fill where McBride’s confrontational comedy used to be. He’s an asset in every fucking thing he’s in and if he didn’t pop back up later to deliver the best, most hilarious scene in the movie, I’d have been a bit disappointed. However, that self-awareness Rogen and Goldberg seem to have in bulk saves the day as they replace the funny and hostile drama with an episodic, hilarious bit that brings the movie back to its “Christian Apocalypse” concept full-bore.

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The exorcism scene is where Jonah Hill finally gets to let his hair down.

One of the longest cons in the movie is Jonah Hill’s nice, sensitive guy thing. Very little of the quipping or funny reactions/exchanges come from Hill. He’d be the straight man if this movie had one. The persona he’s lampooning is one quite divorced from his usual selfish-jerk thing. In fact, it’s the opposite kind of personality and that’s key. If you’re clued in, you might be amused at how he keeps the benevolent, sensitive front up. If not, it’s still funny both on a meta level and in the movie when he gets possessed by demon rape and brings on the full Jonah Hill style against his friends as they make a lame attempt to exorcise him. I’m a big fan of Hill, so this scene was delicious for me as was the realization that over an hour of screen time had been devoted to setting up this one big joke about Hill’s typically abrasive, sarcastic characters.

By the time Hill goes rogue on them, we’ve already seen a couple of demons kicking around and they are surprisingly convincing. I was expecting demonic characters, or maybe possessed people cameos, but the movie eschews all that mythic level stuff and sticks to the humans. This does not preclude an epic and stunning finale where Seth and Jay face off against a giant demon with seven snake heads and a swinging, fiery cock. This is not only convincingly done on an effects level (as much as it can be, anyway) but is just where they take the craziest and biggest ideas and imagery they can come up with and run with it. And why not?

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Light on females as it is, both Rihanna and Emma Watson get to have some fun.

If you’ve seen Pineapple Express or Superbad or even 21 Jump Street, you have some idea of the style of comedy and the general thematic content/tone that this movie is going for. This is the kind of extra depth and nuance that pushes otherwise unremarkable comedy into the stratosphere. And given my love affair with Parks and Recreation I think it’s confirmed that I have a strong love for comedies with big hearts (but I also love the Coens so what does that say?) and This is the End has a huge one.

It’s also one of the funniest movies of the year. Not that 2013 has been packed with great comedies. In fact, This is the End makes it clear how conspicuously absent the comedy landscape has been so far this year. With another “bunch of friends deal with the end of the world” movie coming out later on, hopefully This is the End gets some competition not just as a comedy but also as an apocalyptic comedy. Which… is that a thing now?

If not, it should be.

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