"How It Ends" a sunny, cameo-filled apocalyptic comedy about self-love

How It Ends (2021)

Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein (her creative and life partner) write and direct their sixth film together, again under their cutely named Mister Lister Films production company. Not even a pandemic could keep them from making an indie with “How It Ends,” a sunny, flighty existentialist seriocomedy about the day before the apocalypse. It’s not quite as bleak as 2012’s “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” which paired Keira Knightley and Steve Carrell mixed with a whole ensemble, but more of a romantic comedy about self-love with the same Armageddon backdrop.

Zoe Lister-Jones (2017's "Band Aid") stars as a coder named Liza, ready to embark on a solo journey through Los Angeles neighborhoods with her metaphysical younger self, played by Cailee Spaeny (an impressive rising talent who was one of the leads in Lister-Jones’ 2020 reboot-sequel “The Craft: Legacy”). It’s the last 24 hours of Earth in existence before a meteor blast, and her plan with herself is to make amends with everyone closest to her and face her regrets before making it to an End of the World party hosted by Mandy (Whitney Cummings). It seems her car has been stolen, so Liza and younger Liza will just have to make their rounds on foot, as they run into some interesting strangers along the way.

Taken as a conventionally structured story, “How It Ends” is thinly drawn and meandering. Taken as a series of sketches connected by two versions of the same character, it’s still episodic, but the film is chock-full of absurdist humor, glorified cameos by (mostly) comedically inclined actors given a shtick, and melancholy soul-searching. Though uneven as a collective whole, the pit stops are individually quirky and wryly funny (Paul W. Downs appears on the street as a speedo-sporting sex therapist, and the Lizas come across Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer as neighbors arguing about rinsing out recyclables when The End is tomorrow). 

Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny are charming together (and downright cool in a slow-mo walk toward the camera in a skater spot), and for the sake of the film’s thematic aims about the fine line between loving oneself and being selfless, they are believable as Liza. The sprawling list of contacts they encounter includes Nick Kroll, Fred Armisen, Glenn Howerton, Lamorne Morris, Colin Hanks, Logan Marshall-Green, Helen Hunt, Bradley Whitford, Pauly Shore, and a few more that couldn’t fit on the poster. Olivia Wilde, as Liza’s estranged best friend, gets one of the highlight scenes, where a half-eaten cake and a bottle of wine sit between the two of them. Wilde and Lister-Jones have a simpatico dynamic that one wouldn’t mind seeing an entire film revolved around just them. “How It Ends” may not endure as well much after we’re out of this "new normal," if ever, but it’s an enjoyable trifle that finds hope and chuckles in the doom and gloom.

Grade: B -

American International Pictures released “How It Ends” (82 min.) on digital and in select theaters on July 21, 2021.