I definitely wouldn’t survive an apocalypse. I’m blind without contacts, would probably be ambushed while flossing and have no real discernible survival skills. Luckily, a long, drawn-out apocalypse is not how it ends for Liza (Zoe Lister-Jones, “Band-Aid”). Instead, Liza’s final day on Earth begins with someone stealing her car and forcing her on an oddly casual walk through the city of Los Angeles to make her way to a party; the looming presence of mortality is a meteor casting only a small shadow over the entire day.
Directed and written by Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein (“White Rabbit”), “How It Ends” follows Liza and a younger version of herself (Cailee Spaeny, “The Craft”) as they traipse across LA, righting wrongs, embracing flaws and yelling at Liza’s awful hipster ex Larry (Lamorne Morris,“New Girl”).
Spaeny’s younger Liza is quickly brushed off as metaphysical — generally unseen by the world, she’s a voice of nostalgia and innocence throughout the film. Their relationship eventually comes to a head in a teary confrontation, forcing the audience to consider the difference between a healthy connection with your younger self and never letting go of the past.
Following the premiere, Lister-Jones and Wein sat down with members of the cast to answer questions about the film. The one on everyone’s mind: How in the world do you make a film during the middle of a pandemic? The directors talked about working through the beginning of the pandemic through film, a kind of therapy for the two of them (of course, not in place of actual therapy, another joke cracked by Wein).
They noted that shooting occurred mostly during the spring and summer of 2020 and it’s obvious; Lister-Jones and Wein created an apocalypse film that carries the peaceful atmosphere of pandemic bread-making and a time before the BA test kitchen fell to pieces. Given the timing of filming, that also meant that the actors stood several feet apart during many of the shots and everything was filmed outside. Safety precautions lent themselves, surprisingly, to beautiful wide shots of the streets of LA.
It’s not just the visual aspects of the film that were affected by pandemic precautions. “How It Ends” consists of a series of cameos within scenes made up of Lister-Jones, Spaeny and one to two other people, some who weren’t even in the room.
Finn Wolfhard (“It”) makes an appearance over Facetime, and Sharon Van Etten performs a haunting original song that highlights the tension between young Liza’s naive sense of ambition and older Liza’s hesitations about singing with a stranger. Nick Kroll (“Big Mouth”) is the first person to acknowledge Liza’s metaphysical younger self: Until this final day on Earth, younger Liza was invisible to the world.
The meeting between the three characters begins to establish the metaphysical Liza in the “real” world, while simultaneously instilling the fear of dying alone into both the characters and the audience. This setup of encounter after encounter, borne out of necessity, is still able to provide the kind of narrative satisfaction we find in classic ensemble films like “Valentine’s Day” or “Love Actually.”
And while these cameos push the story along, it’s the relationship between Liza and her younger self that makes the film such a relatable piece, despite the fact that none of us are making our way to a party anytime soon.
The pandemic has forced many of us back into childhoods we thought we left behind once entering college; who would have thought I would be spending my senior year typing up a Sundance review, not in the comfort of my dorm, frantically trying to finish before a night out, but casually in my room with my parents next door? My transition wasn’t even that jarring — I had the habit of returning home most weekends, to see my dog, to use the kitchen, normal things.
But when school closed and relaxing jaunts home were required extended stays, a lot of us started walking around with a shadow of our younger selves, analyzing past encounters, revisiting old friends, though without the impending doom of a meteor. Just a virus.
Daily Arts Writer Emma Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.