We’re at SXSW… kind of! The event is taking place virtually this year so while we’re all watching movies online we’re still bringing you coverage of the best film festival of the year. Check out all of our SXSW 2021 coverage.
Though every film produced for the SXSW 2021 slate should really be classified as a Covid-era piece, there are a handful of comedies dealing explicitly with the pandemic. Some, such as Language Lessons and How It Ends, take the constraints of social distancing and video-calling and use them to tell imaginative stories without mentioning the virus. Others, like Recovery, tackle the crisis head-on and try to create order out of chaos. Aptly named for my final review of SXSW 2021, The End of Us is one such film in the second category. It jumps right in at the deep end, following two exes forced to remain living together, post-breakup, during lockdown.
The End of Us
Director: Steven Kanter
Release date: March 18, 2021 (SXSW)
Rating: Not yet rated
Leah (Ali Vinagiano) and Nick (Ben Coleman) are long-term partners who live together in LA. Nick, an aspiring but so far unsuccessful actor, and Leah, a strategist for a business, are at odds at the start of the film. The power imbalance between them begins to grow Nick starts to rely too much on Leah and she becomes exasperated by his childish behaviour. You get the impression that the cracks have already started to form between them, but soon it’s the final straw and they decide to break up.
This move is easier said than done though, and the cruel irony of Covid is that many people in similar situations had no choice but to stay put. Frustrated with each other and with anxieties fuelled by the fear of leaving the house, it has all the ingredients to become a claustrophobic comedy of errors.
There are definitely parts of the film that work to this end. The pair experience the difficulty of navigating rooms in the house when trying to set up boundaries and spend as little time together as possible. They have to re-learn old habits, such as giving each other nicknames and sleeping in the same bed. There’s the awkwardness of pursuing new dates via video calls while the other is in earshot. In one moment, they even ask a doctor for relationship advice by a comic passive-aggressive exchange. The novelty of each day’s Groundhog Day-like repetition soon wears thin.
The film definitely has relatable moments, too. Leah is unexpectedly made redundant, and all her optimism up until that point vanishes as she spirals into a duvet-dwelling depression. Recently unemployed from his bar job, Nick waits eagerly for his stimulus check in the hope he can buy himself some form of happiness and self-improvement.
This leans a little more into social commentary than some of the other Covid-genre films do: up until now we’ve not seen anyone struggling to get by, pay rent or bills, or find another job. However, in sunny California, in a spacious house with a garden for yoga and a beach nearby, it doesn’t feel much like their comfortable lifestyle is really threatened.
As much as I wanted to invest in this, I still felt that the film doesn’t quite reach its full potential. While I enjoyed the premise and the two leads started off with strong performances, I found that they weren’t very sympathetic for most of the film. It becomes clear that they’re both acting in their own self-interest which I think is a weakness of the screenwriting. Although it’s clear they’re in a tricky situation, neither of them was particularly likeable by the end: each person seemed to make life harder for the other, taking the view that their own happiness is paramount, when they ought to be finding a compromise instead.
Nick continues seeing friends and voicing his opinions but gets quite antagonistic. Leah starts dating a colleague, only for the exchange to turn sour and put everyone at risk. Perhaps this is the pain of the situation for many people in a similar boat, though. I can’t imagine anyone’s been thrilled to be confined with anyone in such close proximity, so on that front it smacks of reality.
By the end of the film, the pair reach a resolution, which is as much a relief to the audience as it is to them. For all the films we’ve seen this festival, I had high hopes for The End of Us. But in comparison to films that have used the subject matter in their own ways, I found it lacked much substance. There were certainly funny and relatable moments, and some of the gags had me laughing aloud. The main body of the piece, though, brought the uncomfortable reality of quarantine just a little too close to home.