Poets have wondered whether the world ends with a bang or a whimper, in fire or in ice. The Los Angelenos in the quirky yet poignant comedy How It Ends aren’t quite as philosophical in the shadow of a meteor about to strike the Earth. Yet such circumstances call for reflection, facing fears, and resolving past regrets.
Liza (Zoe Lister-Jones, Life in Pieces) initially wants none of this, saying she’ll eat until she feels sick, get high, and die alone at home – a trajectory that fits her melancholy outlook. Fortunately, Liza’s younger self (Cailee Spaeny, Mare of Easttown) is more ambitious – and yes, literally in Liza’s house, nurturing her with pancakes and tough love. Wearing baggy clothes without care, teenage Liza nudges her older self out of the house and into action, suggesting they confront those who treated them poorly and make amends with loved ones before a friend’s end-of-the-world party that night.
It’s a lot to conquer in the little time they have left, but Liza rises to the challenge, deciding this is the biggest what-the-hell day she’ll ever have. First, she’ll talk to her emotionally distant father (Bradley Whitford, The Handmaid’s Tale), patch things up with her best friend turned psychic (Olivia Wilde, BoJack Horseman), tell off a lousy ex (Lamorne Morris, New Girl), then work up the nerve to tell the love who got away (Logan Marshall Green, Upgrade) how she still feels about him.
Confronting her mother (Helen Hunt, Blindspotting), who left when Liza was a child, is a “hard maybe,” but not out of the question. Meanwhile, Liza and her younger self discover that cutting loose and resolving loose ends are on others’ minds as well.
Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein (Lola Versus, White Rabbit), spouses who co-wrote and co-directed the film, assemble a fine supporting cast for Liza and herself to encounter. It includes Fred Armisen and Nick Kroll (both of Big Mouth), Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Colin Hanks (Life in Pieces), and even 1990s comedian Pauly Shore as himself, determined to celebrate because he says he should’ve been dead long ago. The interactions on Liza’s agenda and the little moments with the city’s strangers strike the right tone between absurd and touching – a balance you might expect as the clock winds down. Liza and herself meet a doomsday denier, a sex therapist busier than usual, a teacher on a street corner doing the standup she’d always wanted to try, and a busker (Sharon Van Etten, The OA) singing a duet that she hasn’t been able to conquer since a friend died. She asks Liza to join her, and the lilting result is just lovely.
Some viewers’ mileage might vary on the conceit of Young Liza, but viewers who embrace the metaphor will enjoy the ride. Spaeny is amiable company, and she and Lister-Jones have a humorous rapport and provide the film’s emotional core.
Quarreling with her younger self is the literal embodiment of negative self-talk, but it also makes for affecting moments when Liza wonders where her youthful boldness went, or her confidence in feeling lovable and deserving of love. Liza sets out on an odyssey about her various relationships, but finding her self-worth is the real journey of How It Ends, with a resolution that’s heartening and satisfying.