How It Ends, 2021.
Written and directed by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones.
Starring Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Helen Hunt, and Lamorne Morris.
On the last day on Earth, one woman goes on a journey through L.A. to make it to her last party before the world ends, running into an eclectic cast of characters along the way.
Earnest filmmaking is hardly a crime, especially in such a challenging year for humanity, but this thin sketch of a pre-apocalyptic hangout comedy – filmed during the pandemic by spouse-directors Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones – never gets anywhere close to earning its cloying strains for sentiment.
On the day the world is due to be obliterated by an asteroid, Liza (Lister-Jones) manages to snag an invite to an end-of-the-world party where everyone will see in their final moments together. But after Liza’s car is stolen, she finds herself traipsing around Los Angeles with a manifestation of her younger self (Cailee Spaeny), ticking off a laundry list of unfinished business with parents and former lovers alike.
In the pre-film introduction at Sundance, Lister-Jones said that she wanted to create a “time capsule” film for the current moment, yet beyond the recognisably empty L.A. streets featured in the opening credits and the general lack of physical contact between cast members, it doesn’t really feel specific at all to the right now.
But How It Ends isn’t so much a movie as it is a head-spinning revolving door of cameo appearances from the filmmakers’ friends who happened to be in the city at the time. Detailing the unpublicised name actors who show up – of which there are more than a dozen – would spoil most of the film’s fun, and though most of these appearances entertain in the moment, they add up to a spiritual journey for Liza that feels more lazy and contrived than emotionally honest.
The cameos which were included in the Sundance press notes also tend to be among the more prominent; Olivia Wilde is gamely douchey as Liza’s insufferable psychic pal, Lamorne Morris is a good sport as Liza’s womaniser asshole ex who seemingly spends the entire day being hounded by women he’s cheated on, and Helen Hunt runs away with the movie in her two-minute cameo as Liza’s troubled mother – but also forgets to give it back.
This isn’t to discount the efforts of the two leads; Lister-Jones brings a likeable enough presence to the table, though it’s Spaeny – who Lister-Jones directed in last year’s ill-fated The Craft reboot-quel – who more often holds the film aloft during even its most disposably episodic passages.
But anyone turned onto this project by the promise of its apocalyptic element will be sorely disappointed that it’s such a piecemeal part of the puzzle. Given how much drama and comedy could be mined from exploring how a terminal diagnosis for the planet would change the world in what time remains, it’s a shame we get almost nothing here. A gag about the CIA declassifying all their documents and admitting they wrote all of Bob Dylan’s songs is hilarious, but really the only joke of its kind.
The film’s overall incomplete feel speaks to its generally thrown-together, kitchen sink quality, like the actors just turned up wearing their own wardrobe and shot their roles in an afternoon or two (bar the two leads). Some of the wordy, “funny” monologues also feel a little too much like improv for their own good, as if the filmmakers knew they needed to pad their runtime and just let the actors swing for it.
Aimlessness is certainly an on-brand mood for the world right now, but does it make for worthwhile cinema? How It Ends feels less like a film that it does a conveyor-belt of skit-style cameos stapled together. It’s too inoffensive to be bad, but just completely forgettable.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.