BY CHARLES BATTERSBY | As the COVID-19 pandemic set in, the entertainment industry had to adapt. First it was TV specials featuring celebrities crying into their webcams. Then it was TV shows that were rushed back into production with the cast of cops and lawyers all wearing masks. In the near future, we will be awash with indie movies that took advantage of the desolate streets (and conveniently unemployed movie stars) to shoot low-budget productions. How It Ends is one such comedy that found a clever way to capitalize on the pandemic: It is set during the hours leading up to the apocalypse—a fictional apocalypse.
It is written, directed by, and stars, Zoe Lister-Jones. She plays Liza, who awakens on the last day of the world: A massive comet is about to hit the planet, and everyone is preparing for certain doom at 2am. Liza had hoped to simply wait at home and die in solitude, but her “Younger Self” (Played by Cailee Spaeny) suddenly becomes a real, physical presence in her life. Young Liza prods her into trying to settle a lifetime of regrets in a single day—and still make it to a friend’s End of the World party before it’s too late.
The movie skirts most pre-apocalyptic tropes that would require a crowd of actors. There are no rioting mobs, or rampaging soldiers, or ravenous zombie horde, or “Preppers” loading crates of supplies into bunkers. Instead, virtually all of the doomed townsfolk all are staying indoors, politely awaiting The End.
Liza and her Younger Self walk the empty streets seeking out estranged relatives, and old friends. It’s rare to see more than three characters on screen at any time, and they are usually standing at least six feet apart. This is both a precaution for the real-world production team to avoid spreading COVID among the cast, while also being an on-screen metaphor for life under COVID. There are liberal references to 2020 COVID culture. People are buying everything they need online because the stores are all closed, or sold out of essentials. There are obligatory Zoom meetings. A lonely woman is shown eating a whole cake and an entire bottle of wine in one sitting, not even bothering to cut the cake into slices or pour the wine into a glass. Some greet the end with fatalistic depression, and others rush out to fulfill their bucket lists.
They meet an amusing assortment of California stereotypes—struggling entertainers, artsy-smartsy spiritualists, and various guys from Liza’s past who each represent some lost opportunity. These roles are all played by comedians, and familiar “Hey it’s that guy! Whatzisname!” character actors. Due to production limitations, the film is broken up into nice episodic segments as Liza and her Younger Self meet each person alone for a self-contained scene before they move on.
The funny parts of How It Ends hold a certain appeal, but the movie is at its best during the dramatic moments when Liza and Young Liza meet with their divorced parents (played by Bradley Whitford and Helen Hunt). Here, their story is liable to touch viewers a little deeper, and the movie works as therapy for both the creators and the audience—which seems to be the true intention of the creative team.
Runtime: 83 minutes. Written, directed, and produced by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones. Cinematography by Daryl Wein Tyler Beus. Edited by Daryl Wein, Libby Cuenin. Cast: Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Helen Hunt, Lamorne Morris, Nick Kroll. This film screened June 20 at the Tribeca Film Festival (click here for more info). Coming soon platforms including Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, and Direct TV. To access the full list, click here. To view the trailer, click here.
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