Movie Review: 'How it Ends'
How it Ends is one of my favorite comedies of 2021
How it Ends is like an indie pop song, it appeals to some very specific sensibilities and will not be for all audiences. This end of the world comedy finds a nonplussed millennial mildly struggling with her identity and past as she makes plans for the destruction of the planet at the end of this day. What stands out about Eliza (Zoe Lister-Jones), beyond her existential crisis, is that she’s followed everywhere she goes by a projection of her younger self, Young Eliza (Cailee Spenny).
Eliza’s Younger Self, or Y.S, has been with her for some time and until today, the last day on Earth, no one else could see her. Y.S wants Eliza to go to a party and get messed up and have a good time on the last day, thus allowing her to also have some fun and let loose, now that people can see her, but Eliza has other plans. Eliza just wants to smoke some weed and watch the world end by herself. Eventually however, a brief encounter with a former lover, possible love of her life, Nate (Logan Marshall Green), finally convinces Eliza to change her plans.
Things get off to a rocky start however when Eliza finds that her car has been stolen, it’s the end of the world so there are no cops or law enforcement at this point. Thus, Eliza and Y.S set off on foot. Eliza has decided to tackle a bucket list, of sorts, a series of challenging and awkward conversations that she should have probably had prior to the last day of her life. On the list of visits are Eliza’s absentee father (Bradley Whitford), her domineering mother (Helen Hunt), and her former best friend, Ala (Olivia Wilde).
Each of these encounters are awkward, offbeat, and funny because of the strange tension between Eliza and whoever she is talking to. The imminent end of the world gives each of these conversations an extra charge of energy. The uncompromising nature of the situation that all of these people are in radically changes the dynamic from one in which a young woman is taking back power from those she feels took from her to something far stranger and even more interesting.
These planned encounters with parents, friends and former lovers, are broken up with random encounters with others who are struggling to come to terms with the end of the world. These scenes all feel organic in their weird energy and the humor takes on dimension when you consider these odd encounters in the context of the end of the world. One of the stand out encounters is with former SNL star Fred Armisen. I won’t spoil the fun, you should see it for yourself. It’s just one of a series of funny interactions.
A sense of the odd sense of humor in How it Ends finds a young woman standing on an empty street corner and performing stand up comedy. Eliza and Y.S approach and the woman begins doing crowd work with the only two people near her. ‘Where ya from? What do you do?’. Eliza tries to be supportive of the woman who explains that she is a teacher by trade but she always wanted to be a stand up and the end of the world gave her the courage to try it out. Eliza’s attempt at being supportive turns deeply awkward and with no natural ending, the encounter ends in lovely comic awkwardness.
At the center of How it Ends is not the comic journey that Eliza is taking toward the end of the world party but rather the interaction between Eliza and Y.S. What begins as a strange gimmick and running gag begins to build when Y.S tires of Eliza’s constant diminishing of her during their adventure. Being Eliza’s Younger Self, you can begin to parse what we are building toward but I promise that you won’t be able to predict how it ends.
How it Ends was co-written and co-directed by Daryl Wein and star Zoe Lister Jones and the pair does a wonderful job of establishing a heightened tone, a strange, offbeat tone that remains consistent throughout How it Ends. Some might call the tone precious or twee and make comparisons to similar low key comedies of similarly odd tone. Those comparisons are fair and reasonable but ultimately don’t do justice to the terrific trick that How it Ends manages to pull off.
The final moments of How it Ends turns on one of the many strange encounters Eliza has with a murderers’ row of comic cameos. I won’t spoil who has this key moment but it never feels like a key moment. The characters maintain the strange, seemingly improv nature of the movie even in this key moment and thus, when this moment is elevated in the final moments of the movie, I was surprised to the point of being deeply, unexpectedly moved.
How it Ends might appear like a deliberately strange art house comedy but the ending engages in the kind of emotionality that movies like this tend to avoid. The final minutes of How it Ends brought me the most unexpected emotional catharsis. From what we see from the start, How it Ends appears dedicated to wringing a few odd laughs from its heightened premise. Then, it turns into a movie that earns genuine pathos and leaves me choked up.
How it Ends will be available for streaming rental as of July 20th, 2021.