‘HOW IT ENDS’ Sundance Film Fest Review: A Mumblecore MELANCHOLIA


Courtney Howard // Film Critic


Not Yet Rated, 82 minutes

Directed by: Zoe Lister-JonesDaryl Wein

Starring: Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Olivia WildeHelen Hunt, Lamorne Morris, Fred Armisen, Whitney Cummings, Bradley Whitford, Logan Marshall-Green, Glenn Howerton

T.S. Eliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.” This is totally applicable to filmmakers Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones’ HOW IT ENDS, which climaxes in a metaphorical whimper that will assuredly accompany an over the top eye roll from most in the audience. This optimistic dramedy crumbles into insufferable quirk for quirk’s sake far before its final grace note – one that includes leading lady Lister-Jones donning a pair of paper 3-D glasses as an asteroid hurtles towards Earth. While the potent power of the picture’s heartfelt sentiments and charismatic leads do shine through, the flaws are too glaring, eclipsing its brilliance.

It’s Liza’s (Lister-Jones) final day on Earth. In less than 24 hours, an asteroid will collide with the planet, killing everyone instantly. Yet, instead of socializing, she’d rather hole up in her apartment, eating until she pukes and getting high until she dies. Her metaphysical Younger Self (Cailee Spaeny) cajoles her into getting out of bed and RSVPing “yes” to kooky pal Mandy’s (Whitney Cummings) End of the World Party. Adding further impetus to attend, Liza’s hunky ex-boyfriend (Logan Marshall-Green sporting serious Ashton Kutcher hair) is planning to be there and might want to rekindle their romance. Liza had purposely screwed up the good thing they had in the past and wants to apologize.

This gives Liza an idea: Spend her final hours on a Closure Tour (or “scavenger hunt for her soul” as one stranger calls her quest) righting her wrongs, seeking solace and clearing her conscience. This means getting vulnerable – something Liza has a problem easily doing. Because lawlessness accompanies this impending finality, someone steals her car, so Liza and her Younger Self are forced to walk all over the pandemic-hushed pockets of Los Angeles. Visits with her dad (Bradley Whitford) and mom (Helen Hunt) yield predictable breakthroughs, but it’s the light-as-a-feather encounters with a cavalcade of cameos that give the picture a breezy melancholic tonality, meeting neighbors standing outside their homes, or walking places.

There’s a certain sense of romanticism in that notion, that even in our last moments, we’re reticent to isolate from our communities – whether it be arguing with a neighbor, busking outdoors to no one, or freeform word association in the garden with a loved one. Messaging like this is at the narrative’s core, and the film transforms what could come across as cloying or trite into profundity that impacts the protagonist. Listening to your inner voice, and not discounting it, is important. Scenes that show Liza experiencing growth strengthen thematic ties, like where she makes up with her estranged bestie (Olivia Wilde), or confronts a cheating ex-boyfriend (Lamorne Morris). Despite learning more about Liza through expository dialogue rather than her behavior, these sequences do propel the character forward.

That said, Wein and Lister-Jones aren’t as effective delivering some of the more comedy-laden segments, which mostly devolve into wacky asides that bog down a breezy run time. The C-story of Mandy’s last day escapades, biking around streets poorly in a bikini, then rolling down the Hollywood Hills in an inflatable bumper ball aren’t funny (and, if this played in a theater, you could almost hear annoying folks performative-laughing during these bits). The mystery of Glenn Howerton’s character, who is creepily stalking the pair, holds very little payoff. Worse, the cameo-palooza also becomes tedious and exhausting.

Capturing a different side of LA, one not often seen on screen, informs the characters’ mission at hand. We get a new perspective on an oft-photographed city as they get a new perspective on themselves. The filmmakers even shoot at the Sepulveda Dam, which is perhaps an incredible homage to BUCKAROO BONZAI with its aesthetic and music choices. However, at the end of our day, this cinematic adventure doesn’t quite enrich our lives in the same way it has for the characters within.

Grade: C-

HOW IT ENDS premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 29.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.