The star-studded indie ends just how you might think it will, but the splashes of personality and electric chemistry between the two leads alleviate some of the predictability.
Zoe Lister-Jones leads the VERY extensive cast list of “How It Ends”. Seriously, there are so many cameos in this film. You have Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Bradley Whitford, Megatron, The ghost of Liberace, Aileen Wuornos, Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s, etc. Made a few of those up, but guess what? You won’t know which ones until you see the movie HA! Lister-Jones not only stars in this but produced, directed, and wrote the script with her husband Daryl Wein. The two have teamed up for a number of unique indie features but none of them feel the same way as ‘How it Ends.’ Before I get into it, I cannot recommend “Breaking Upwards” more. A beautifully intimate film.
If you don’t know, “How It Ends” is described as an “apocalyptic comedy.” The story follows Liza (Lister-Jones) and her metaphysical younger self (Cailee Spaeny) as they confront their regrets in the face of a meteor set to destroy Earth in hours. An obvious pandemic flick, or pandem-flick if you will. Meaning, it’s evident that shooting took place during lockdown. The disadvantages of lockdown filmmaking seemed insignificant in this film due to how they worked the story around it.
We spend most of the film following Liza and Little Liza as they walk the empty streets of Los Angeles, Meeting random and offbeat characters on the way. But the two’s journey has 4 main destinations: The oddball Father, the psychically “gifted” best friend, the oblivious ex-boyfriend, and the absent Mother. Each one of these characters unlocks deep details about our main protagonist, but unfortunately, it’s not enough.
Lister-Jones and Wein have created a film that’s full of personality flairs and unique character strokes, but none of it is infused into the story where it’s really needed. It made the film’s pacing feel disjunct and spotty. It was as if every scene worked independently, not setting up the next or taking from the previous one. Liza’s interactions make for some funny and entertaining situations but to go from a silly interaction to a serious one, just doesn’t work. Its tone reminded me of The Princess Bride remake on Quibi that was filmed inside all the stars’ homes. Does anybody remember that? It was kind of a trainwreck but it was a fun trainwreck.
It embraces silliness and irreverence in a great way but it always compromises important scenes for development or depth. Not everything has to be deep for it to win me over, I’m not a snob. However, when the emotional resonance of an important scene is removed because the script and direction can’t maintain seriousness, you can feel it. For example, when Liza confronts her Father about her regrets and how her father played a role in them, the scene is supposed to be serious but the direction just wouldn’t let it. It held the film back from its potential to be absolutely brilliant. But thankfully, this film found it’s way as a comedy above sappy drama.
I really loved everybody’s upbeat and nonchalant attitude towards the end of the world, it was very LA. Lister-Jones and Wein did a fantastic job capturing Los Angeles in such a real way, from its inhabitants to its atmosphere. I found it funny how many stars made their cameos as well as their LA homes. “How It Ends” had an apparently low budget that was made obvious by the settings but it also had a possibly reasonable budget judging by how many famous actors made an appearance. It felt like an Adam Sandler film minus the budget for a scene involving Sandler fighting an exotic animal of some kind.
Instead of a film, it was a pleasant gathering of all your friends to be on camera. Every interaction between Liza and a random LA habitant had an improvisational undertone. It was as if no one was following a script, but they really were having a conversation on the street. Zoe Lister-Jones held her own as the main protagonist alongside Cailee Spaeny. Both gave performances that let their range shine through their respective characters. Spaeny represented youth with such maturity while Lister-Jones represented an adult met with impending doom and the realness of her regrets with wisdom. I enjoyed the two of them throughout the film riffing off each other.
It didn’t have Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, it didn’t have a killer shark, and it didn’t have a blockbuster press junket. But it did have sunny California and a global catastrophe threatening all of mankind making it THE feel-good film of the summer. Summer films aren’t perfect, and they don’t have to be. ‘How It Ends’ is endlessly charming and has its intelligence shine through its two stars. I haven’t seen The Jungle Cruise yet, and if you are in the same boat as me (haha boat pun. Is it even a pun?) I highly recommend taking the alternative route with ‘How it Ends.’
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