What would you do if you knew it was the last day on earth? For everyone? That’s the concept of How it Ends, from writers/directors Daryl Wein & Zoe Lister-Jones. In this high concept comedy filmed during the Pandemic, Wein & Lister-Jones attempt to tell an interesting story. This works to varying degrees of success in the film. How it Ends plays like a creative exercise filmed over a short period of time. This is partly endearing and partly frustrating.
In the film, Liza (played by director Zoe Lister-Jones) treks on foot throughout LA to make amends with herself and others. Along for the ride is the metaphysical form of her younger self, played by Cailee Spaeny. As Liza makes her way down her list of people she visits her interactions with her younger self make for some on-the-nose development and self-reflection.
The production is impressive considering the circumstances. How it Ends ultimately came from a place of love. As well as the need to make a time capsule of the mentality of the times it was made in. For that, I give the film and its directors credit. It is full of the uncertainty and odd feeling of being in confusing times. The characters Liza visits are essentially celebrity cameos. Whether it be a parent, ex-lovers, or friends that lost touch.
In addition, the concept of the metaphysical younger selves becoming visible to others was a huge part of the film that went underdeveloped. Moreover, the concept first introduced as something only Liza can see, is revealed early on that now others can see as well. It was such an interesting concept introduced that allowed for some thought on how we view ourselves and others. Are we prone to self reflection of our attitudes and beliefs when shit hits the fan? Do we revert to wanting to cling to the past and do something that we would have done when younger? When the film raises these questions it gets interesting.
Unfortunately, it only uses this concept as something of a gimmick. For comedic purposes and someone for Liza to talk to throughout the runtime, it does not spend time on the younger self. That is nothing on the part of Cailee Spaeny, who is charming, funny, and creative in the role. Zoe Lister-Jones has great comedic timing and chemistry with her younger self as well. However, it does not develop the concept to its full potential and this hinders the experience somewhat.
The repetitive gimmick of the two Liza’s walking through LA, followed by an interaction that leads to amends, followed by another comedic beat eventually wears thin. It is not without its charm, and the leads are partially what save the repetitive nature of the film. The film dives towards the more intense themes of the concept towards the end, and that is some of the saving grace of the film as well.
The third act of the film adds more emotional heft to the film, only to bring it down with awkward jokes and timing. Overall, How it Ends is an extremely interesting creative exercise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily execute its high concepts to their fullest potential. Still though, the film, despite its flaws, is a testament and reminder to a weird period of time filled with uncertainty in everything but (hopefully) ourselves. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 6.5/10
How it Ends is pending a wide release date. For more Sundance 2021 coverage, keep an eye on our Twitter page and this site!