When lockdown began last year, if you’re anything like me, you considered being quarantined with an ex. Would being stuck together remind you of what you loved about each other? Or, would the forced time together tear at the fabric of what was once there even more? That’s the concept behind The End of Us, which, frankly, is the sort of movie many were dreading would come out of COVID. Luckily, it’s not misguided like a few other works recently tapping into the pandemic have been, but it still feels unnecessary. Playing at this year’s incarnation of SXSW, it’s ultimately just a bit of a misfire, albeit one with some light charm.
The End of Us is a film we’ve seen before. COVID just is an attempt at a fresh coat of paint. So many flicks have centered on a couple breaking up and needed to be stuck together. This one doesn’t do anything new, besides reference the pandemic (and boy do they reference it). That choice, inevitable as it always was going to be, keeps this from ever being a success.
Nick (Ben Coleman) and Leah (Ali Vingiano) are breaking up. She’s had it with him, and needs him to move out. He’s broke though, so it’ll take some time. Then, COVID-19 hits, and it becomes clear he has limited options. More truthfully, he has no options, so he winds up on their couch, an actor without work, now a guest in the home he used to share with his now ex-girlfriend. The expected struggles and squabbles ensue.
While they eventually find some measure of a routine, Nick does begin noticing Leah’s charms more. At the same time, Leah begins talking to co-worker Tim (Derrick Joseph DeBlasis), with the potential of a date looming. Not only does breaking quarantine potentially put their health at risk, in a very real way, it also truly signals the end of Leah and Nick. How that’s all handled shows how they’ve potentially grown during this time.
The longer we spend with Ben Coleman and Ali Vingiano, the more we warm up to them. Initially, they’re thinly drawn, but as everyone gets comfortable, Nick and Leah grow on you. The supporting players, none of whom have much screen time, are one note, but Coleman and Vingiano eventually develop some complexities. They very much keep this from being a total slog.
Filmmakers Steven Kanter and Henry Loevner don’t do anything near here, and that’s what ultimately keeps The End of Us from succeeding. Coleman and Vingiano grow into their roles, butt Kanter and Loevner never are fully sure how much COVID to involve. They use too much early on, including a ton of news footage, then abandon it for stretches, making for an odd fit with the story, overall.
The End of Us is hardly the worst film at SXSW 2021, but it does leave you wanting more. With less of a focus on the pandemic and more focus on these two characters, this could have been a decent enough take on well-worn material. Instead, it just kind of floats in between worlds, uncomfortable in both. Alas.