Zoe Lister-Jones is at the center of her third directorial effort, an apocalypse comedy about a woman trying to get to a party on the last day on Earth. The twist is that she’s accompanied by a younger version of herself, a spirit who is suddenly visible on this final day, when everyone has a heightened sense of reality. In a recent interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, Lister-Jones explained that the plot was partly inspired by all the inner child work she’d been doing in therapy. That might sound cringeworthy and at best heavy-handed but this little indie is buoyant and goofy, and gently sends up L.A.’s wellness culture, COVID-deniers, and even the existential anxiety many of us are grappling with as the climate crisis becomes more obvious. Shot entirely outdoors in L.A. during the pandemic, How It Ends is also a record of life under lockdown, showing the eerie stillness of the streets and skies.
Lister-Jones’s character, Liza, has a simple goal: she wants to have fun on her last day on Earth. Her younger self, played by Cailee Spaney, has more complex plans: she wants to reconnect with people from the past, including Liza’s parents. She also wants to be recognized and appreciated by Liza. The older Liza agrees to devote the day to making amends as long as they end up at the hedonistic party they’ve been invited to. So, off the Lizas go, strolling down empty Los Angeles streets in search of their parents, friends, and ex-lovers. They walk on foot because their car is stolen, but also because the movie was filmed pre-vaccine, and the actors are maintaining social distancing protocols. Everyone they meet is outdoors, either on the streets or in their backyards and gardens. Young Liza and older Liza stand several feet apart, with younger Liza trailing behind when they encounter other people. One of the running jokes is how other people engage with young Liza. Some people see her immediately and chat with her, some see her but can’t place her, while others never even notice her.
Lister-Jones co-directed and wrote How It Ends with her long-time collaborator, Daryl Wein, and the film has the loose, intimate feeling of friends getting together and being creative and a little bit introspective. It’s a movie full of cameos and improvised scenes; you’ll recognize comics, musicians, and a few big stars. There’s very little exposition, and almost no explanation of how the world will end; all we see is an asteroid in the sky, which grows larger as the day progresses. The emptiness of the streets was also never explained, which did strain plausibility — wouldn’t everyone be out on the streets, partying from the get-go? Still, I didn’t really mind. This is the kind of movie you just have to roll with, and I did. To me, it was a portrait of the cognitive dissonance of lockdown, the way day-to-day life was quietly dull, and maybe even boring, while things happening far away were wildly dramatic — and possibly heading toward you at breakneck speed.