How It Ends [Sundance21]

Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny appear in How it Ends by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Daryl Wein. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Truth be told, I’m a sucker for end of the world movies. Not necessarily disaster movies but instead dramas about how one deals with the end of life. A solid go to of mine in this category is always the 2012 film Seeking a Friend for the End of the World; a film that balances comedy with existential drama so well. Then there’s Zoe Lister-Jones (Band Aid), a fantastic writer and director who has such a dry and unique style of comedy that always draws me in whenever she’s on screen. This year she’s brought us her new film How It Ends; the story of a woman’s journey through LA on her way to a party before the world ends that night. Along the way she meets a cast of familiar faces and characters who are all dealing with the same fate, just in many different ways. 

As an avid Lister-Jones fan, this was up high on my list of anticipated films for the festival this year. I really had no idea what to expect from this as all I had to go off of was her previous films as well as a brief synopsis and I think this worked to the film’s advantage. How It Ends never tries to be the next deep, thought provoking film in its sub-genre that makes you sit there after, questioning how you’re living your life and if you’re living it to the absolute fullest – although that’s not always a bad thing to ask yourself. Instead it’s a light comedy that takes us through a number of sweet, funny and at times somber interactions between Lister-Jones character Liza and a mix of strangers and acquaintances that in one way or another forward her process of accepting her impending doom. 

On the way to the party, we witness Liza go through a series of pit stops dealing with her regrets of the past as she tries to find closure with old friends and family. Although it can get a bit repetitive at times as we sit there and sort of wait for something new to push us forward in the film, this is where co-writers and directors Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein’s strengths come in handy. Their ability to transition from laugh out loud comedy, to raw drama and then back to comedy all in the same scene is fantastic. I mean, it definitely helps that the lead can segue so effortlessly into so many different emotions in the span of a five minute take. 

Although much praise has been delivered to our lead and co-director, I’d love to talk about her on screen partner in crime this time around, Cailee Spaeny (Bad Times at the El Royale). I don’t want to spoil what kind of role she plays here because it’s a nice little surprise to the plot, but she shares the screen almost the entire time with Lister-Jones and it was so much fun. The way these two work off of and complement each other throughout the duration makes me want to see more of them together. Having just come off of directing Spaeny in The Craft remake last year, it’s nice to see what could be the start of a new director/actress duo that I for one would enjoy the shit out of. Spaeny is vibrant, charismatic and surprisingly great with comedy – I say surprising because I haven’t seen her in a comedy chops until now. 

Bottom line is, this was a joy to watch. It was unexpectedly a film that tackled one’s own self worth and how we can lose ourselves the older we get, instead of being another “what should I do on my last day alive?” It was clearly filmed during Covid seeing as no one touched each other once and everyone organically kept their distance but I’m just grateful that we have new stories and films coming out of this pandemic. If you’re as much of a Zoe Lister-Jones fan as I am, you’ll probably love this as much as I did.