Friday , November 19 2021
How It Ends

SXSW Film Review: ‘How It Ends’ – Pandemic Filmmaking

It’s the last day on Earth. One woman walks around Los Angeles seeking closure and one last party before Earth is destroyed by an imminent collision with an asteroid. And, it’s really funny.

The film How It Ends had its second film festival showing at SXSW Online 2021, which ran March 16-21. It stars Zoe Lister-Jones as Liza and Cailee Spaeny as Young Liza. Here’s the twist. They both exist at the same time. How is this possible? It’s a metaphysical thing, and some people can see Young Liza and some can’t.

In the first scene, before we’ve figured out who she is, Young Liza pounds on the window of sleeping Liza, gets into the bedroom and jumps up and down on the bed, ultimately dragging Liza out of bed. And so begins the last day on planet Earth.

Unhappy Lady

Like several other films at SXSW this year, How it Ends is about an unhappy lady seeking to understand herself. She gets an invitation to an end-of-the-world party and decides to go. Upon leaving her apartment she discovers that her car is gone. She yells, “Dude, where’s my car.”

As Liza and Young Liza begin their trek to the party, they visit and run into other mostly unhappy earthlings. What makes this even more fun than the premise is the cast.

Liza and her younger self discuss their situation in “How It Ends”

Having made the film during 2020, I suspect that filmmakers (and couple) Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones reached out to their neighbors in the Hollywood Hills and said, “Hey, let’s make a movie about the end of the Earth.” The cast includes, among others, Fred Armisen (Portlandia), Bradley Whitford (The Handmaid’s Tale), Olivia Wilde (BoJack Horseman), Lamorne Morris (New Girl), Helen Hunt (Mad About You), and Pauly Shore (Encino Man).

As I watched Liza and Young Liza walk down the middles of what would normally have been busy Los Angeles streets, I wondered how they got all of those streets blocked to traffic? Oh, wait. Middle of the pandemic. Never mind.

They Did It All

When I referred to Wein and Lister-Jones as filmmakers, it was more true for this film than for most of their other projects. In order to keep crew size to a minimum, they not only produced, wrote, and directed, they also pitched in on cinematography and editing.

Neither one was a beginner. Lister-Jones wrote, directed, and executive-produced the reboot of The Craft. Wein directed Mozart in the Jungle.

After the screening, they were interviewed by Vanity Fair’s Bret Hemmings.

How It Ends
Daryl Wein figured out how to make ‘How It Ends’

Wein suggested they decided to make the film because they were tired of buying overpriced toilet paper. He recalled, “We shot in the summer and edited into the early fall. We had so much time on our hands and nothing to do but film and cry in between.”

Lister-Jones explained that they worked from a very detailed outline: “We started to script some of the scenes from the outline, but for others we just said, ‘Let’s play’.”

Pandemic Shooting

Hemmings asked what it was like leaving the house during the pandemic.

Lister-Jones said, “For many of us it was the first time leaving the house. Olivia Wilde hadn’t driven her car in months. We emphasized comfort and safety. Some people were nervous about being funny in the depths of despair, but this story was not centered on the pandemic.”

Hemmings asked what the biggest challenge was.

Wein said, “We did it very guerrilla. Challenges included wearing many hats and adhering to health protocols. It was a weekly battle to be sure we had everything needed to keep people safe.”

The Cast

Hemmings asked about Lister-Jones’ co-star, Cailee Spaeny who played Young Liza.

Zoe Lister-Jones had to get to a party

Lister-Jones said, “She’s like an angel who fell from heaven. She auditioned for The Craft and there were so many unquantifiables about her talent. We wrapped The Craft in January. The day that Daryl and I cracked this idea, Cailee texted me and said, ‘Let’s make something together.’”

She added, “We were also lucky to get the amazing cast we did because at any other time they would have all been working on something else.”

The film is full of sight gags and absurdities, like Olivia Wilde eating a cake with one hand and drinking wine from a bottle with the other. Who knew the apocalypse could be so much fun. Well, at least “How It Ends” is.

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About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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