Infused with charming energy and bolstered by funny and fresh dialogue, The End of Us approaches its take on COVID storytelling through the lens of a recent breakup. Based on a true story and directed by first time feature filmmakers Henry Loevner and Steve Kanter, the film relies heavily on its wit that’s bolstered by a script that is engaging and undeniably (even agonizingly) timely, but never fully finds the heart of the story despite the truth behind it. Despite that, there’s an upwards momentum to the lighter sequences and leads Ben Coleman and Ali Vingiano playing recent exes Nick and Leah find their strengths in those moments as well. Imperfect though well-intended, the film is a capsule of a surreal time in all of our lives and, by focusing on one relationship and shining a light on the specificity of the strangeness and awkwardness of the year, it manages to overcome the tone-deaf quality of other pandemic related films.
From the moment we meet Nick and Leah we get the impression that they don’t seem destined for longevity, leaving us surprised to learn just how many years they already have under their belt. He’s a would-be actor and professional manchild while she’s a Type-A workaholic who has spent much of their relationship trying to keep the two of them afloat. After yet another fight she finally pulls the plug on their relationship only for California to issue it’s stay at home order, locking the two together as Nick isn’t able to find anyone willing to put him up during such troubled times. Despite an impossibly uncomfortable premise, the story mines a lot of laughs not only from the two’s initial combative and petty acts and disagreements but from capturing the greater absurdities in the midst of the pandemic. When your only company in a time of isolation and social distance is an ex, what personal hurdles do you need to leap over in order to not be driven further to the brink?
It’s in these contemplations where the film finds its greatest room to play in. A standout scene of Leah agonizing over the day to day news while keeping unhealthy sleeping hours and indulging in more than the recommended amounts of coffee plays into the now odd-couple, with Nick’s observations of her bad habits and tendency to over-analyze her symptoms no longer comforting but aggravating. The smaller acts of inciting frustrations such as hiding moisturizers and changing the Netflix passwords all add to the situational comedy that shows the film at its most naturalistic. Despite the backdrop of the pandemic, the main conflict at the film’s center is relatively tame and used as a way to explore the unfortunate circumstances people get stuck in. The script by Loevner and Kanter needed to allow the story room to breathe in these sillier but more comedically engaging moments as they’re much more suitable for the overall tone.
Despite the best efforts of Coleman and Vingiano the main issue of the film is that we’re never invested in Nick and Leah as a couple – or even really as friends. The chemistry between the two is non-existent so that while one night of drunkenness might lead Nick to believe that he should try and win Leah back, we’re never convinced. The two are charismatic enough on their own and Coleman in particular shines in how responsive his acting is but they’re better and more interesting as brief antagonists that would be partners. To the film’s credit, it seems to understand this to a point as we watch Leah make greater strides in establishing herself outside of the relationship, but when the narrative crux of the film relies on the interactions of only two characters you’d hope the two in question would provide greater combined entertainment.
That said, The End of Us is a largely enjoyable film with Loevner and Kanter possessing a strong eye for situational comedy with very of the now, cinephile friendly jokes such as Leah having to google what Criterion is and her crestfallen face when a would be crush talks about the merits of Ozu versus Kurosawa and later talks about how he can’t watch any reality TV because he’s been keeping up a one film a day rhythm throughout quarantine. There’s no denying how current the film is and while that could become its drawback in the future, for now it’s merely a small snapshot at just one of the ways 2020 and onward has uprooted our lives in ways both foreseeable and not. A sincere and confident debut, the film isn’t without its flaws but manages to keep itself afloat with it’s winsome and willful humor.