Not since the 1963 Hayley Mills classic "Summer Magic" has a movie featuring a horned, horny Satanic beast with a giant wang also exuded such genuine warmth.
Don't get me wrong. "This Is The End" is absolutely scatological. A severed head finds itself Beckham-ed around the room. Lengthy conversations are had regarding a man's right and demand to deposit semen wherever he pleases. Michael Cera plays a coked-up, sex-crazed version of himself who enjoys the kind of tossed salad you don't top with dressing. That's the delivery method. But it's not the package.
Best known as a team for their "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express" screenplays, writers/directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg specialize in tales of maturity-challenged people facing the truth that relationships they thought they understood might in fact be holding them back. Some of their works are forgettable ("Drillbit Taylor" won't be shown at any Oscar retrospectives). Some are minor comedy treasures. But they've built a voice that is uniquely their own. It stands for something. And one thing you know you'll never find in their pictures is meanness. Characters sometimes operate without a moral compass, but you always get the sense they're aiming for something higher.
In its own way, then, "This Is The End" feels like the movie they've been building to their entire careers - a dividing line between what came before and what's to come. On paper it sounds like a self-indulgent prank they conned the studio into letting them make. With all major actors in the movie playing themselves, Jay Baruchel visits his old "Undeclared" costar Rogen in Los Angeles, hoping for nothing more than a few quiet days of smoking weed and playing video games with his friend, montage-style. Rogen, however, drags him to a party at James Franco's house, a Hollywood scene Baruchel can't buy into. Before Franco can impress upon him any more half-baked theories on why everything is art, however, the apocalypse strikes, and along with Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride, they struggle to stay alive.
God, how many ways that "real friends hanging out" concept could fall flat and even feel insulting. A sort of "Grown Ups" for actors who shun the PG-13 rating, forcing us to watch people more successful that ourselves have the good time we're not. Two important things work in Goldberg and Rogen's favor, though. First, the movie is bracingly, gut-bustingly funny. Learning from their mentor Judd Apatow that sometimes it's best to just point the camera at talented people and let it roll, these guys fly on the natural rapport that only they enjoy. Laughs hit like out of an assembly line, fast and fierce.
Second, and more important, "This Is The End" utilizes the shared history we know between these people. Everyone coulda played original characters dropped in the same basic concept, and they could tell the same story. But they wouldn't have the same movie. What ultimately concerns "This Is The End" is a friendship between two people (Rogen and Baruchel) who came up in their field together and now feel themselves drifting apart. They don't want to admit it. To do so would also admit their friendship no longer holds the same value it does in their memories. But at this vital point in their lives, they must take stock of who they are. Who they once were and who they've become. Their shortcomings and outright failures. How maybe the best version of themselves doesn't involve the other person.
Those same friendships that constrain us, though, can also be our salvation. They connect us to who we once were, they remind us of the person we dreamed of becoming and assumed we'd become, and they can ultimately save us.
On the profundity level, this doesn't exactly approach Ingmar Bergman. Sincerity can sell a movie like little else can, however, and "This Is The End" hits with a shocking resonance.. Maybe this started as a hang-out showcase, but Rogen and Goldberg pursue the opportunity to honestly explore feelings festering inside them. If this movie winds up one of the sweetest of the summer, it's because they meant it.
Look, it's a silly summer comedy. I know. You can enjoy "This Is The End" on whatever level you want. Want to frame it as an inside-baseball showbiz comedy with real actors taking potshots at each other? It's more than happy to comply. Prefer it through the Edgar Wright model of comedies that both send-up and honor their genre? This movie has you covered - although its budget ain't large, you can see the money on screen a few times, and some events in the third act are bug-nuts crazy.
Rogen and Goldberg are clearly firm believes in comedy found in the absurd and the awful, but they also realize there's zero reason you can't throw heart in there too, all side by side, mixing in each other's goo. This movie's such a nimble comedy, tautly paced, zany and full of life. A real gem.
("This Is The End" opens everywhere on June 12th.)