Sundance 2021: HOW IT ENDS

Austin Film Society satellite screening of a movie for our times

[Ed. note: This screening was a part of the Sundance Film Festival’s satellite offerings, with Austin Film Society playing host. These were the first AFS screenings since the pandemic began. Just hearing that interstitial music and the sound of Holly Herrick’s voice introducing a film was whiplash to a previous time, one we hope becomes a regular occurrence once again.]

How It Ends is both a pandemic movie and not a pandemic movie. Shot in the late spring and early summer of 2020 and focusing on themes of isolation and shared suffering, the film nevertheless goes its own way. The Big Evil here is not a virus but an asteroid.

At 2:00 in the morning, the world is set to end. A hurtling ball of rock will end all life on earth. In the meantime, Liza (Zoe Lister-Jones) and her Younger Self (Cailee Spaeny) walk around Los Angeles, looking to wrap things up and then head to one last party.

This is the perfect style of moviemaking for a lockdown. The two Lizas go from one house to another, often the actual domiciles of their collaborators who turn out to be friends of the directors Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein off screen. In social-distanced interactions, the story plays out.

Intentionally or not, this film owes a lot to Slacker, the ultimate “walk around and talk to weird people” movie. But here, instead of seemingly random denizens of Austin, they run into Fred Armisen or Nick Kroll. These discreet interactions make the film feel like a series of short stories in a way, and the effect is perfect.

Cast and crew during the Q&A

A mostly empty city is the backdrop as the Lizas engage in some quirky fun, but there are depths mined here, too. Liza is dealing with growing up but not making the connections she thought she would. Boyfriends have come and gone, and it has her doubting her worth in ways that are heartbreaking to see and hear. As much as her Younger Self tries to reassure her, the response is always “You don’t count,” a tragic thing to say to oneself.

Smart and engaging with a terrific cast, How It Ends not only fits in with the zeitgeist of the times, but will stay relevant far beyond as the eternal human struggle for fitting into the world will never end, not even at 2 a.m. by a space rock.

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival continues @ AFS through February 1st. Find tickets and more information here.

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