How It Ends: Sundance 2021 Review
As a fan of their quirky, yet introspective delivery, it’s a joy to see writer/director Zoe-Lister Jones and Daryl Wein reunite for the pre-apocalypse comedy How It Ends. While admittedly scattershot and slight in its delivery, the duo’s loose riff on our ongoing nihilistic dread mines its own playful frequency.
Set in a world where an asteroid is about to destroy the planet, How It Ends follows Liza (Zoe-Lister Jones), an insular loner who spends most of her time talking to her metaphysical younger self (Cailee Spaeny). In an attempt to find peace amidst the challenging circumstances, Liza walks journeys through town to make peace with some of her long-forgotten acquaintances.
Between Liza’s intimate friendship with her younger, metaphysical self and the bevy of comedic favorites stopping by for a visit (a who’s who of talents, including Olivia Wilde, Glenn Howerton, and Pauly Shore), Wein and Jones find a clever comedic pulse within their timely material. A wandering pace sets an intriguing sandbox of skits that properly skewer vapid LA socialites. At times, these one-note gags linger on before landing with a comedic thud. When they work though, the bizarre personas strike a humorous balance between authenticity and goofiness while serving as a fit road map for Liza’s journey of self-discovery.
How It Ends boasts several talented personas, but the ensemble works best when centering its focus. Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny have a naturally snippy rapport as Liza’s duel-selfs while still exploring the character’s lingering wounds. I wish the explorations of self-acceptance and regret were more purposeful, as the dramatic beats travel through a number of coming-of-age cliches without adding anything new to the conventions. Strenuous efforts for an emotive connection don’t really land with their intended impact.
How It Ends doesn’t consistently operate at its peak, although that fact doesn’t mask the film’s agreeable strengths. This is a pleasant and sharp-enough diversion for fans of the duo’s low-key indie energy.