How It Ends
2021, NR, 82 min. Directed by Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones. Starring Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Glenn Howerton, Helen Hunt, Bradley Whitford, Whitney Cummings, Finn Wolfhard, Logan Marshall-Green, Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Nick Kroll.
REVIEWED By James Scott, Fri., July 23, 2021
How It Ends, the dark comedy from co-writers and directors Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein, opens on the day a comet is set to destroy Earth. Dragged out of bed by the metaphysical manifestation of her younger self (Spaeny), Liza (Lister-Jones) eats a massive stack of pancakes and bemoans how she’s going to die alone. The other, younger Liza points out Liza’s not alone as long as her younger self is there.
“You don’t count,” Liza says, and beneath these words are the real message – Liza doesn’t count as good company for her own final earthly moments. But whether she likes it or not, herself is the only company she’s got.
And so the two versions of Liza set out to check off some emotional to-do’s, and maybe find someone else to spend doomsday with – sans car, thanks to an underwhelming C plot about Glenn Howerton stealing it offscreen. After firsthand experience of how mundane world-ending events can be, the nonchalance that both Lizas exude as they walk around L.A. rings realistic, if a little wooden when paired with the various improv sets that take up most of the film’s run time. Liza’s existential scavenger hunt, as Colin Hanks calls it in a cameo among a multitude of other cameos, shores up familiar faces for short scenes. Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Pauly Shore, Bradley Whitford (apparently pulled into the film due to Lister-Jones texting his wife to see if he was interested), and many, many others all come to play. These last-day-alive vignettes are a mixed bag overall, with many failing to leave an impact. Stronger examples, such as Helen Hunt as Liza’s mother, come from their relation to Liza and her reconnection with a more optimistic version of herself. Because what really brings How It Ends’ emotional punch power is Lister-Jones and Spaeny as two ends of the same person’s life. Young Liza pushes her older self to get out there, see people, and confront her emotions, while the elder Liza doesn’t believe in the pleasure of her own company. Both actors give their performances a perfect dance – in step the way one can only be with themselves – and that harmony only makes the discord more aching.
Not unlike the younger self and the older self in their jaunt around a pre-apocalypse city, How It Ends is a movie more in twain than cohered. Much of the film fails to create sparks, with romantic B plots, jokes, and even the story resolution of the once-stolen car being returned all smudging off each other like damp matches. And yet within the fracas is another, better story that did captivate me. For all the wincing indie-film humor, for all the celebs packed in for socially distanced scenes, the film succeeds most in the simplicity of Liza and her younger self as they navigate the tension of finding balance and acceptance of the entire self. As the younger Liza says, “For me to count, you have to count, too.”
A version of this review ran as part of our SXSW coverage.
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How It Ends, Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones, Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Glenn Howerton, Helen Hunt, Bradley Whitford, Whitney Cummings, Finn Wolfhard, Logan Marshall-Green, Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Nick Kroll