Sundance Film Festival has long been known for its notorious quirkiness. Often programming American indie films from a wealthy, nepotistic scene, filmmakers like Miranda July got started at American indie’s largest festival. Past the 2000s Golden Era of twee, it lives on through a millennial BuzzFeed style humor, much to the chagrin of many. This brings us to one of the festival’s largest disappointments, Band-Aid director Zoe Lister-Jones’s collaboration with filmmaker Daryl Wein, How it Ends.
The basic premise sounds nice enough, with a lead, Liza, played by Lister-Jones herself, visited by her younger teenage self, played by The Craft: Legacy star Cailee Spaeny, who takes her through every worry of her life at that age. It’s an apocalypse where Liza has to choose how to spend her last day, and must process all the regrets and joys of life in a short time.
Now, this is no She Dies Tomorrow. The first two acts of the film are unbelievably shallow, even though they try otherwise, relying on Gen-Y aesthetics of wealthy white Los Angeles instead of plotting. A scene in which a man’s attractiveness is shown on a bridge, by filling his arms with puppies and zooming in with sparkles and stereotypical love music, stands out as particularly egregious in the way of tweeness, adding nothing but a reminder that this is an indie production.
That brings us to the larger problem, which is the constant celebrity cameos. Most of the film is just a grand tour of Zoe Lister-Jones’s famous actor and comedian friends. Yes, we know you’re friends with Bradley Whitford and Olivia Wilde, but after Finn Wolfhard on a Skype Call, and every comedian on an LA block turn up, this all feels sandwiched in for clout of having as many big names in bit parts as possible. They’re shoehorned in as family members and small conversations about Liza’s life, but it just feels forced and like an SNL skit that never gets to the punchline, as no one quite meshes. One bright light here is a brief performance from Sharon Van Etten, but even her musical talent can’t make it bearable.
The film takes a turn to what could almost be good too late, where it gets tearfully existential over everything she hasn’t experienced in life, all the dreams her younger self had. However, the tweeness preceding makes grown Liza unwatchable to the point the asteroid coming to hit the earth can’t come any sooner. References to Timothee Chalamet and Tiktok place How it Ends in a frame of reference that’s bound to be dated soon, placed in an exact point in 2020.
That brings us to the last issue: this is a pandemic movie. This is a film that was created to be made within lockdown restrictions with the privilege to be able to test and visit wealthy actor friends, and move through a covid-heavy city to do so. The cameos are a creative workaround for not being able to have a large cast or set, but it’s painfully obvious that this is a pandemic creation made among friends, and that it mainly cares about maximizing the big names attached at the expense of developed plot.
The idea of a lighter last-days type movie is nice, but the celebrity cameos feel like a direct opponent to the supposed indie nature of the film’s tweeness, leaving an end result that it’s hard to define who or what it’s actually meant for. The generationally specific humor and basicness has its niche, and the cultural specificity will greatly date the film, leaving it an unbearable half-comedy artifact of the coronavirus era, with a lockdown gimmick that certainly isn’t selling tickets. It’s a shame, as Cailee Spaeny has potential as an actress, and could even be good within this twee brand of indie, but hasn’t been given roles she can shine in.