Sundance 2021: How It Ends

Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny appear in How it Ends by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Daryl Wein.

How It Ends is the existential comedy-drama (mostly comedy) filmed during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic that I didn’t know I needed.

Liza (Zoe Lister-Jones) is on a mission to get to a party before the end of the world.  Joining her for the day is her younger self (Cailee Spaeny).  Because it is the last day on the planet, people can see her younger self.  This film takes place in some sort of metaphysical reality so it’s okay.

Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones shot How It Ends in the late spring and early summer.  In addition to co-directing, co-writing, and serving as one of two producers, Daryl Wein also edits the film.  I’ve seen some pandemic-shot films that work and others that don’t.  I’ll get to the one scene that I found problematic here in a moment.  But aside from this, How It Ends has me chuckling quite a bit.  This is a very unique film.  It is a film that could only be made during a pandemic.  I mean, everyone appearing in the film is outdoors somewhere in Los Angeles.  Because of camera trickery, people appear closer than they are in real life.  Filmmakers, this film is a real lesson in pandemic filmmaking.  There are no actors appearing over Zoom–thank G-d.

This is a cathartic film for Wein and Lister-Jones.  Coming from a screenwriter such as myself, I know that many filmmakers use scripts to explore something deeper.  This is the beauty of using a film like How It Ends as therapy in a way.  Producing this film during a pandemic just takes it to another level.

Lockdown has given us a lot of times to work on ourselves.  Some more so than others.  What Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones seek to do here is really break things down.  With who and what is available. this may very well be the best film about the end of the world.  They manage to do so with a star-studded cast featuring many talented comedians.  There’s a few here that I can’t imagine being played by anyone else. For instance, the scene with Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer works so well because it’s Rob and Paul.  Another scene that works amazingly is the one with Mary Elizabeth Ellis and Charlie Day.  I also love that the film throws in some references to Dude, Where’s My Car and Say Anything.

There is one party scene in the film that I found to be problematic.  This isn’t so much because of the context in the film itself but because of the pandemic.  In most scenes, there were very few actors on camera.  But this scene?  It takes place at a party. Moreover, there is no physical distancing in the scene.  Is this a VFX shot?  I certainly think so or the camera is playing tricks on us.  But outside of this scene, you can tell that it’s shot during a pandemic given the lack of background actors.  Nobody is on the roads or sidewalks.  It’s something that is so unusual.  I mean, a scene at the beach and it’s completely empty?  This is simply unheard of!

If you’re going to have a film where actors are walking all over the city, have them wear better shoes.  I mean, I know wearing heels is a choice on Zoe’s part but I could not help but think about this while watching.  But I guess it could be worse–Zoe and Cailee are not running away from dinosaurs on Isla Nublar!  Sorry, not sorry.  But I digress!

How It Ends is a remarkable–albeit cathartic–lesson in pandemic filmmaking.

DIRECTORS/SCREENWRITERS:  Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones
CAST: Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Whitney Cummings, Tawny Newsome, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Logan Marshall Green, Bobby Lee, Fred Armisen, Glenn Howerton, Bradley Whitford, Ayo Edebiri, Sharon Van Etten, Olivia Wilde, Paul W. Downs, Raymond Cham Jr., Lamorne Morris, Angelique Cabral, Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer, Helen Hunt, Colin Hanks, Charlie Day, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, and Pauly Shore

How It Ends holds its world premiere during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres program.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.