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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘How It Ends’ Delivers Fun While the World Wraps Up

The world coming to an end is a bad thing. Controversial statement, I know. That hot take aside, almost any movie about the apocalypse has a genre feel to it, or is a straight up action flick or drama. How It Ends, however, goes in a very different direction. This pandemic-shot comedy is a breath of fresh air here at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Finding the fun within such an awful premise may seem weird, and this is a very weird flick at times, but it’s also quite enjoyable. Frankly, it’s just what we need right now, given our current situation.

How It Ends was filmed during the pandemic, and that impacts a bit of the filmmaking, but the premise is evergreen. Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein are wholly unconcerned with any of the traditional end of the world tropes. This is just about how people are spending their last day, and specifically how one woman opts to do so.

Liza (Lister-Jones) knows she’s going to die. An astroid is hours away from colliding with Earth, so that’s a foregone conclusion. However, how she’s going to spend the day is up in the air. Her younger self (Cailee Spaeny) is hanging out, but does she crave company? One of her friends is throwing a giant bacchanal of a party. Maybe she just wants drugs? Unfortunately, the dispensary is fresh out. So, the party might be the best option. Then, her car is stolen. Even on this final day of life, some things never seem to change.

Walking across town, Liza and her younger self run into an assortment of random characters. Some are still going about normal life. Some are taking stock of it. Others are just relaxing. All are deeply weird. Before the day is out, she’ll see her parents, talk to former lovers, and maybe even find a sense of inner peace. After all, if not today, then when?

Zoe Lister-Jones is a strong actress, as well as a filmmaker, and her performance here is more evidence of that. Reacting to the absurdity of her cast-mates, she’s very much our anchor. We buy into the premise, not needing other details, due in large part to her. Cailee Spaeny is great, too, acing a difficult part. Their chemistry together is aces. Aside from Lister-Jones and Spaeny, it’s mostly cameos. Those include Fred Armison, Whitney Cummings, Charlie Day, Helen Hunt, Nick Kroll, Bradley Whitford, Olivia Wilde, and many more.

Along with her partner Daryl Wein, Lister-Jones writers and directs this comedy with an eye towards the slightly absurd. The characters who pop up are all ridiculous, though many do end up making cogent points about life. If there’s one issue with their script, it’s that the turns towards seriousness for a bit is out of the blue. They right the ship, but it’s jarring. Then, there’s the obvious lack of polish from shooting during the pandemic, but that comes with the territory.

How It Ends may be too quirky for some, but it hit me just right. It’s very much a Sundance movie, but if you’ve enjoyed the work of Lister-Jones and Wein before, this should hit the spot once again…

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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