Polygon’s leisure crew is logged on for the 2021 Sundance Movie Pageant, which has gone digital for the primary time ever. Right here’s what you have to know concerning the indie gems that may quickly make their option to streaming providers, theaters, and the cinematic zeitgeist.
Logline: On Earth’s remaining day, as a planet-obliterating asteroid streaks towards Earth, an ungainly lady named Liza (co-writer and co-director Zoe Lister-Jones) and her youthful self (Cailee Spaeny) stroll round Los Angeles collectively confronting individuals, decided to lastly get closure on their relationships at first ends.
Longerline: Should you knew precisely while you have been going to die, what would you get carried out earlier than you go? The query makes for a wealthy cinematic theoretical, and filmmakers have provide you with extensively various solutions, from a poisoned man making an attempt to unravel his personal homicide earlier than dying within the 1950 noir D.O.A. to a lady who principally spreads contagious death-panic to everybody she is aware of in 2020’s She Dies Tomorrow.
In How It Ends, Liza and her youthful self as an alternative resolve that it’s time to lastly strive honesty. Liza has spent her life avoiding confrontations and emotional conflicts, to the purpose the place she fled from a relationship with a person she beloved. On the final day earlier than oblivion, she decides to tour L.A. and individually confront her dad and mom, an estranged good friend, and the man who repeatedly cheated on her. She hopes to wrap up her life at a drug-fueled end-of-the-world bacchanal, and inform the love of her life how she actually feels about him.
Mildly complicating her plans: the presence of her youthful self. It’s implied that Younger Liza has been invisibly hanging out with Liza for a very long time, however mysteriously, different individuals can now see and listen to her, which each Lizas shrug off as par for the course throughout a time the place everybody simply appears a bit of extra tuned into the infinite. It’s an odd machine, nevertheless it offers Liza a cheerleader and enabler who’s always pushing her out of her consolation zone, and many of the movie’s precise drama comes from the pure conflict between youthful self and current self, given how far they’ve drifted aside.
What’s How It Ends making an attempt to do? Within the Q&A after the movie’s premiere at 2021’s digital Sundance Movie Pageant, writer-director companions Lister-Jones (The Craft: Legacy) and Daryl Wein (White Rabbit) admitted that How It Ends was their try and make sense of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that adopted. Lister-Jones laid it out: “We don’t actually know any manner, for higher or for worse, to course of existential crises besides by means of our work… [it] kind of serves as remedy.”
In a manner, that makes How It Ends no totally different from different individuals’s countless lockdown pursuits of creating higher sourdough bread. However the timing of the movie’s manufacturing (it was shot in late spring and early fall of 2020) explains lots concerning the filmmaking, like the way in which L.A. appears to be weirdly empty, and the way in which Liza’s varied deliberate confrontations happen outdoor, normally with members about six toes aside. It additionally explains the story’s queasy relationship with loss of life: all of the characters are targeted on the oncoming international extinction occasion, however on the identical time, nobody appears significantly nervous. It’s as in the event that they’ve lived with mass loss of life hanging over their heads for months now, and have began to seek out the ready tedious. Many of the characters have arrived at a philosophical place the place they’ve thought by means of their apocalypse plans, and current them with a dreary casualness.
That partially feels metaphorical — as with the pandemic, the characters listed here are all coping with the very same existential disaster at the very same time, however they’ve every been steeped in impending loss of life lengthy sufficient to take it on in their very own idiosyncratic methods. On the identical time, these strategies all really feel like totally L.A.-centric approaches. A number of of the Angelenos Liza talks to appear informal concerning the apocalypse as a result of they’re closely self-medicated. Most of them speak the language of self-help books and spiritualism seminars, significantly a cheerfully drugged-up couple performed by Mary Elizabeth Ellis and Charlie Day, reuniting from It’s All the time Sunny In Philadelphia. Stroking a large crystal and shouting issues they admire about one another (“Toes!” “Oral intercourse!”), they’re grooving towards loss of life with out worry. Equally, when Liza visits her father (Bradley Whitford, chirpy and hilarious as ordinary) to confront him about his failings, he encourages her towards primal howls and shoving gestures, as he tries to tackle all her unfavorable power and depart her free. In a number of encounters, Liza’s acquaintances speak casually concerning the subsequent life they’re all headed to, as if explaining why they aren’t too nervous about leaving this one.
That mellow hippie vibe looks as if it’s meant to be significantly therapeutic; other than random encounters with squabbling neighbors, the Lizas principally encounter peaceable individuals and constructive feelings. Virtually everybody appears honest and prepared to cooperate of their try and reconcile. Liza has main points along with her mother (Helen Hunt), however they speak by means of them sincerely and overtly. She’s offended at her dishonest ex Larry (Lamorne Morris), however he’s prepared to pay attention and provides suggestions, graciously if not precisely sincerely. For a movie the place practically eight billion individuals are about to die in flames, How It Ends is fairly chill.
The quote that claims all of it: “Tonight I simply need to get actually fucking excessive, eat till I puke, after which die.”
Does it get there? That lack of significant battle additionally means the movie lacks urgency, or a way of rising or falling motion. It’s largely only a collection of incidents, every pretty intently toeing the road between comedy and drama. The author-directors defined through the Q&A that among the scenes are strictly scripted, whereas others have been largely improv, which explains the variation in tones and tightness. The overtly ludicrous one-upsmanship of the face-off with Larry is a spotlight, as Liza gamely waves a boombox, Say Something type, then tries to precise her frustration with him by means of straight-faced Alanis Morrisette lyrics. However different scenes drift round a central gag with out going wherever specifically, and the movie’s largest drama crops up all of a sudden, with out the sense of rising stress that might have made it really feel like a pure and inevitable a part of the story.
What does that get us? How It Ends isn’t as miserable and exhausting because the in any other case comparable Melancholia, Lars von Trier’s 2011 research of despair within the days earlier than an asteroid obliterates the Earth. It doesn’t discover as a lot variation in response to incoming loss of life as Looking for a Pal for the Finish of the World, Lorene Scafaria’s 2012 comedian drama that equally follows the lead-up to an asteroid-based extinction occasion. Largely what it brings to an inevitable future “Loss of life By Asteroid” triple-feature is heat and uplift: it’s low-key to a fault, filled with quirk and attraction. On this model of the apocalypse, even probably the most self-absorbed, narcissistic individuals on Liza’s prolonged buddies listing are well-meaning and supportive.
The opposite factor it brings is that odd machine of the interior little one (or on this solid, interior twentysomething), which Lister-Jones says the filmmakers drew from therapeutic instruments. What’s most lacking within the movie, although, is a way that the machine is admittedly obligatory. It permits some late-film stress, however the movie perpetually feels prefer it’s missing the type of end-to-end revelations about Liza and her youthful self that might make that massive central break up really feel significant. Thematically, as everybody cheerfully offers Liza a while to talk her truths and discover her heart and whatnot, typically at their expense, the one particular person she isn’t at peace with is herself. However that concept feels primary, and the execution is equally primary. There’s a wealth of potential humor and trauma in her each day interplay along with her personal youthful self, however the script barely scratches the floor of it.
Essentially the most elementary downside with How It Ends is that it seems like precisely what it’s: a passion undertaking put collectively by a bunch of bored individuals seeking to course of their very own anxiousness. Granted, these bored individuals embody Fred Armisen, Paul Scheer, Nick Kroll, Rob Huebel, Sharon Van Etten, Olivia Wilde, and even Finn Wolfhard in a tiny cellphone cameo, so the movie has one thing of the vibe of an L.A. comedy podcast, the place each informal acquaintance additionally has some degree of fame in their very own proper. However the story feels a bit slapped-together. It’s a pleasing sufficient hangout film, and sometime it could be held up as a slanted portrait of what mid-2020 felt like for individuals privileged sufficient to disregard politics. But it surely nonetheless seems like a minor film within the face of a serious disaster.
Essentially the most meme-able second: Just about any shot the place Liza and Younger Liza commerce significant, judgmental appears is prime “Me to me” or “Me / Additionally me” meme materials.
When can we see it? How It Ends is at present looking for distribution.