The new comedy How It Ends somehow pulls off the impossible. It showcases all the different emotions a person could having during a global crisis, about a global crisis, shot during a global crisis. And it does all that while being thoughtful and funny too.
Written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones (The Craft: Legacy) and Daryl Wein, the Sundance film How It Ends takes place in modern Los Angeles on the last day of existence. You see, an asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. Total destruction is inevitable. So Liza (Lister-Jones herself) decides she’s going to ring-in the end of the world at a party. Accompanied by a physical manifestation of her younger self (Devs’ Cailee Spaeny), Liza heads out the door only to find her car has been stolen. That means Liza and young Liza are just going to have to walk across LA.
Lister-Jones and Wein shot How It Ends during the current covid-19 pandemic, so the whole movie has a very socially distanced vibe. The Lizas walk around LA talking to people, most of whom are played by famous actors Liza sometimes knows and sometimes doesn’t (Nick Kroll, Olivia Wilde, and Charlie Day are a few, as well as several others I wouldn’t want to spoil). Each encounter then becomes almost its own mini-scene that’s either for played for laughs, tears, or some absurd mixture of both. And each time Liza learns a little bit more about herself, her life, the importance of relationships, and so much more. The conceit is a way for the filmmakers to get across a lot of complex — sometimes opposing — ideas, all within the same narrative.
Keep in mind, all of this is happening with the unexplained metaphysical manifestation of Liza’s younger self standing there, so she plays a part too, which adds even more opportunities for exploration. Liza talks to Liza about regret, their deepest secrets, fears and, ultimately, their issues with each other. Plus, don’t forget, the world is still ending — every few scenes the movie pulls back and we see that meteor in the sky, the ultimate ticking clock to find out what truly matters in a world that’s gone to hell.
As the Lizas, Lister-Jones and Spaeny not only have great chemistry, they raise each other’s game. Spaeny’s Liza is a bit more free-spirited and brave than Lister-Jones’s version, but older Liza is a role model for younger Liza, something for her aspire to, despite the wear and tear of life. Each performance is vulnerable, sweet, and funny on its own, but together, they’re simply magic — like two sisters who know each other so well it’s hard to tell them apart.
Take those two great performances, bounce them off all these weird interactions, make each one feel different, unique, and poignant, and you’ve got How It Ends. It’s a story that, by its nature, ends up being a little repetitive, a little uneven, and a little dialogue-heavy, but that also ends up being the point. Life itself is repetitive and uneven. But we live it anyway. And if you’re forced by the constraints of a global pandemic to make a movie with friends that consists of them just them standing around and talking from a distance, the dialogue had better be the star. At least here it’s in service of a story that’s interesting and makes sense.
The focus on talking also forces the audience to really lock in on what’s being said — to think about the bigger implications and how you may personally relate. If you can do that, and get over the film’s limitations, How It Ends offers up plenty of rewards. It feels like a scavenger hunt for the soul, asking us to examine the collective crisis we’re still going through.
How It Ends had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. It does not yet have distribution.