How It Ends
By Tara McNamara,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Drugs, swearing, sex talk in unique, self-reflective comedy.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The relationship you have with yourself is your most important one. It's important to offer yourself and others grace and forgiveness when you have opportunity. However wronged we might feel, we're responsible for our own choices and happiness.
Positive Role Models
No strongly positive role models, although that might be the point: Liza's mom and dad lack parental skills, which has left her insecure. She does care about her younger self and others they encounter along the way, but this is a very self-centered (literally) story. Very little diversity.
Violence & Scariness
The story is about the imminent end of the world; nothing violent or scary is shown, but a sense of doom is pervasive.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Lots of sexual banter and references to sexual experiences. But nothing occurs on camera.
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Very strong language throughout: "d--k," "s--t," and many uses of "f--k."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Heavy references to and normalizing discussion about drug use. Suggests that buying and taking drugs is a fun part of everyday life.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that How It Ends is a quirky comedy about self-acceptance within the context of the impending end of the world (via meteor). Main character Liza (Zoe Lister-Jones, who also co-directs, writes, and produces) uses her final day to revisit the significant, largely broken, relationships in her life. That includes her parents and the feelings of abandonment they've fostered in her. But ultimately the person she has to contend with is herself; the movie gently suggests that however wronged we might feel, we're responsible for our own choices and happiness. This thoughtful message is accompanied by mature content: Drug use is depicted as cool and normalized (and, of course, this being the end of the world, there's even heavier usage than usual). One character goes on a ketamine bender with zany results but no real consequences. There are also lots of sexual references, but nothing physical occurs on camera. Language is strong and frequent: "F--k" is used many, many times, as are other words ("s--t," "d--k," etc.).
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How It Ends
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What's the Story?
HOW IT ENDS looks at the last day on Earth through the eyes of Liza (Zoe Lister-Jones), an L.A. woman who's still grappling with finding her place in the world. On her way to an apocalyptic party, Liza stops to find closure and peace with the people and relationships that shaped her.
Is It Any Good?
For a comedy about going to a wild end-of-the-world party, this is a surprisingly calm, measured, and amusing look at coming to terms with yourself. You've likely heard this question before: If you knew then what you know now, what would you tell your younger self? Here, that idea is turned upside down: What would your younger self say to you if they knew what you'd become? As Liza tries to revisit all of the relationships that have gone wrong in her life and get closure, she tries to ignore her own mistreatment of herself. It's kind of meta but kind of not, kind of a metaphor but actually overt. So, what it really is, then, is clever.
Another clever move by Lister-Jones and co-writer/director/producer Daryl Wein was to use the COVID-19 pandemic to their advantage, doing some indie filmmaking on the fly. You have to imagine that filling a cast with recognizable faces and names was a little easier than normal during quarantine -- when your actor friends are home and bored seems like a good time to ask whether you can walk over with a camera and have them do a scene. And that's what How It Ends delivers: One scene each with talented performers like Helen Hunt, Bradley Whitford, Finn Wolfhard, Fred Armisen, etc., most of whom seem to have been given license to improvise. The scene between Liza and her best friend from high school (Olivia Wilde) is especially phenomenal (and seems likely to be referenced by acting teachers from here on out). Whether or not this little bighearted comedy makes a splash, it's a time capsule: Empty streets lined with dust-gathering parked cars is exactly what Los Angeles looked like in the early months of lockdown. Lister-Jones and Wein use this to set a scene where the world is in shock, not panicking, rioting, and looting, but accepting their doom and going out with dignity ... albeit also potentially high or drunk. The film reminds us that, when it all comes down to it, the best friend we have is ourselves, so we should treat ourselves with the love we deserve.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how the filmmakers of How It Ends turned a negative situation -- worldwide COVID-19 lockdown -- to their advantage. How did they work within real-life public health guidelines in a way that made sense in the script?
How does the movie depict substance use? Is it glamorized? Are there realistic consequences? Why does that matter?
What advice would you give to your younger self? What do you think your younger self might tell you today?
If the end of the world was coming in 24 hours, how would you spend your final day?
- In theaters: July 20, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: July 20, 2021
- Cast: Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Whitney Cummings
- Directors: Zoe Lister-Jones, Daryl Wein
- Studio: American International
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 82 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, sexual references and drug material
- Last updated: February 24, 2023
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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