Sundance 2021 Review: How it Ends

Directors: Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones
Starring: Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Helen Hunt, Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Lamorne Morris, and Nick Kroll
Cinematographers: Daryl Wein and Tyler Beus

What would you do if you knew death would knock on your door by day’s end? Would you make amends with those you’ve wronged or wronged you? Or would you party like it’s your last night on Earth without a single regret?

In Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones’ How it Ends, an asteroid is set to annihilate everyone on Earth. Before it does, Liza (played by Zoe Lister-Jones) gets invited to one last jamboree before her world literally comes crashing down. As she sets out to have one final night of her life, she stops to make amends with family and friends along the way. With help from her younger self (played by Cailee Spaeny), Liza journeys across Los Angeles to make peace and to find the right person to spend her last minutes with.

If there was ever a perfect time for Lister-Jones and Wein’s feature How it Ends, it would be now. l couldn’t have chosen a better time than after the tumultuous year of 2020. That’s because this charming pre-apocalyptic dark comedy made me reflect on the idea of regret and being confident in speaking up to say the things I need to before it’s too late. The empowering nature of this film comes in the form of quirkiness and an unusual sense of poignant optimism. But these clashing themes work very well to reveal a fun journey despite it being the end of the world.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Right away, Liza seems like a confident, free spirit, but it’s quickly revealed that she has a number of problems going for her- self sabotaging when it comes to love and being too afraid to speak her mind- to name a few. With the help of her younger self, she soon realizes that that lifestyle has hurt not only the people she’s cared about, but also herself. And holding it in until the very last opportunity hasn’t helped her either. I found these concepts to be all too familiar when it comes to feeling like you’ve run out of time before being able to say your peace. It’s hard to even recognize when it’s happening, but How it Ends does a beautiful job exploring this concept with humor and heart in a way that stuck with me.

I was certain the film would go a particular way by its third act: a happy ending in which Liza doesn’t have to take that step towards admitting her faults in all of her relationships. However, Wein and Lister-Jones took an alternative approach and showcased the importance of accountability. Sometimes, that means walking in someone else’s shoes or listening to a deeper part of yourself. It’s messy, emotional and at times uncomfortable. But if done with the intent to truly make amends and grow as a person, how it ends doesn’t matter. The journey there does.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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