Caitlin Quinlan


How It Ends – first-look review

There’s shades of Miranda July in Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein’s deadpan end-of-the-world comedy.

A cloudless sky beams over Los Angeles, interrupted only by a glowing yellow asteroid hurtling destructively towards Earth. Down below are two incarnations of Liza, her current self and her younger, teenage self, walking side by side through a leafy, sun-kissed neighbourhood. With its self-explanatory title, How It Ends proffers resolution before it has even begun. In navigating the path to the end of humanity, however, Liza hopes to find several other resolutions for herself alone.

Shot during the pandemic, Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein’s film coalesces an absurdist honesty in the vein of Miranda July, an LA-millennial aesthetic and the silliness of stoner comedy, complete with a Dude, Where’s My Car? reference. Exploring their suburb en route to one last party on the day the world is set to end, the two Lizas bump into a cast of famous faces around every corner and share brief, often comic and sometimes charming moments with them.

Some are strangers who indulge in a quick game of charades, as goes an early interaction with a jovial Fred Armisen, and others are people from Liza’s past with whom she feels she needs to reconnect before armageddon. These segments are hit-and-miss, and the longer a scene goes on the more the comedy starts to wear thin. A joke with Olivia Wilde about meeting Timothée Chalamet in the afterlife and a Zoom-based quip with Helen Hunt border on cringeworthy.

These moments feel targeted, and therefore forced, to a millennial audience, as do several visual jokes which hark back to internet-youth fantasies that now feel clichéd; Liza eats a towering stack of pancakes for breakfast, drinking maple syrup from a glass, and then bumps into her hot ex who just happens to be carrying two puppies at the time.

At the film’s core, however, is the effortless dynamic between Lister-Jones (in the lead role as current Liza) and Cailee Spaeny, who shines as her younger self. Their interaction with one another is so fine-tuned, with a playful mimicry on display that adds credibility to the film’s more sincere moments. How It Ends works with a very simple premise despite the major catastrophe at hand, as Liza finds quiet moments of spirit from the community around her and begins to come to terms, in particular, with her feelings towards herself.

The moment of true resolution arrives not when the asteroid hits, but when Liza is finally able to give the love and acceptance she had been denying herself. It’s a little meandering in structure but there is a feeling of real heart in the film’s idiosyncrasies and glimmers of standout comedy in Lister-Jones and Spaeny’s deadpan delivery. Perhaps it would have made a memorable short film, where its quirkiness and tenderness might not be swallowed by the more tiresome elements.

Published 30 Jan 2021

Tags: Daryl Wein How It Ends Sundance Film Festival Zoe Lister-Jones

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