If there’s one group of people that we have all lost patience with since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, besides the obvious fact-deniers, it’s celebrities. With all their privilege and wealth, it’s practically impossible for them to truly relate to middle and lower class struggles under a pandemic. They have been recently trying their “best” to give back to the people, sometimes in useful ways such as donating money and sometimes in completely useless ways like recording themselves singing a John Lennon song. Whether they are clowns or not, the point still stands: our tolerance for celebrities right now now couldn’t be thinner. This notion is what will ultimately make or break your viewing experience of How it Ends, a pandemic-inspired dark comedy full to the brim with celebrity cameos… shot under lockdown restrictions last year in Los Angeles, which is currently one of the world’s largest COVID-19 hot spots. Pretty awkward.
Whether we like it or not, pandemic-inspired cinema was inevitable. Art is constantly shaped by society, evolving cultures, and of course, history. Films inspired by quarantine and the real-life tragedies at hand aren’t inherently a bad thing. The issue is just that in today’s Hollywood system, we expect shameless, predictable muck like the Michael-bay produced Songbird. How it Ends isn’t a mainstream studio product though. This quirky indie film isn’t even about a deadly virus! Set in modern Los Angeles the day before a meteor is expected to wipe out life on Earth, we follow a young lonely woman full of regret and dissatisfaction. Her only companion is a metaphysical projection of her younger teen self. The two can’t decide whether or not to attend their loony friend’s end of the world bash, but after a good old-fashioned self pep talk, they embark on a final redemptive journey across LA.
At first glance, this premise boasts potential. End of the world themed films are nothing new, especially those littered with celebrity cameos. However, directing and writing duo Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones (who also stars as the lead) bring a few fresh goods to the table. The first being the concept of a metaphysical younger self. A neat idea that essentially powers the core of the film, it’s creative and makes way for witty scenarios (Fred Armisen pops in as the younger self of an elderly man and it’s hard not to at least laugh a little). The film was shot on the empty streets of LA; characters walk right down the middle of roads with few cars and no people to be seen. It leads to some captivating and somewhat eerie imagery that plays well with a dark comedy like this.
The main journey, although a bit clichéd, is admirable enough. Our protagonist visits key players from her life to make amends before the highly anticipated party and, well, death. These people range from estranged parents to ex-lovers. Each final conversation gives us enough space to imagine ourselves in that very scenario. It’s a fascinating agenda that mostly works in this film’s favor. Emphasis on mostly because the majority of these pit stops come with a celebrity appearance and the effectiveness is determined by the humor. It also doesn’t help that along the way, there are more celebrity cameos. One moment, we’re buying drugs from Nick Kroll, then we’re reflecting with Olivia Wilde, but not before It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Glenn Howerton chases us down the street!
Again, the prospect of How it Ends being cameo central might seem like a strong idea – it’s not and to be frank, will be much of the film’s main selling appeal – but it runs out of steam quick. By the time we run into a lost Colin Hanks looking for his exotic dancer girlfriend (a movie in its own right), much of the charm has been lost. Celebrities cashing in a few moments of their day while under lockdown wouldn’t be as uncanny if the film actually had more originality to present. The main relationship between our lead and her younger self is the thread that tries to hold it all together, and the final pay off isn’t enough to justify the last hour and a half of strolling through cameo city. The film leaves you wanting more, and you’ll be forced to ask yourself, did I just sit through a feature-length SNL bit? Is that How it Ends?
For all the issues, the film still has charm (while it lasts) and carries an intriguing premise of a journey, one that finds a few moments to deeply resonate with you before the next celebrity drop-in. Whether or not the comedy and ideas that did land was enough to justify shooting in LA during lockdown is a whole other question. The party scene, admittedly not as large as the real parties LA has seen under COVID-19, is still not the best look considering the current state the city, and country for that matter, is at. At least it got right that even in the face of death, people will do the dumbest sh*t possible with a large gathering. Ironically, for a dark comedy inspired by a pandemic, this painfully feels more like just an afterthought in How it Ends.