Edgar Wright has done the improbable with The World's End. His latest comedic homage is bigger, bolder and battier than Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz -- and at times, even funnier. Yes, funnier.
What's interesting, though, is what's hidden beneath the hijinks. Wright has often circled around ideas about conformity, lost potential and mortality. It's the undercurrent of his work, even when it's masked by jump cuts and whip-fast dialogue. The World's End indulges a more bittersweet variety of these themes, quite unexpectedly turning a sci-fi comedy into a thoughtful movie about life and freedom.
The World's End
(Photo by Focus Features)
The protagonist of The World's End -- as much as he can he be called one -- is Gary King (Simon Pegg), the self-proclaimed "king" of Newton Haven, a sleepy burg in the English countryside. Gary was the coolest kid in high school, but a severe case of arrested development has left him jobless, alone and estranged from his hometown friends. With a bit of the old slickster's charm, Gary convinces those former friends -- Andy (Nick Frost), Peter (Eddie Marsan), "O-Man" (Martin Freeman) and Steven (Paddy Considine) -- to go back to Newton Haven with him, so they can attempt a debaucherous feat known as "The Golden Mile." Twelve beers, 12 pubs, one night. This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but a bar crawl.
After establishing each character, his story and his particular brand of distaste for Gary, Wright twists The World's End in a familiar sort of way into genre-specific territory. Gary's beloved Newton Haven is not what it appears to be, so between visits to fittingly named pubs like The Famous Cock, The Good Companions, The Trusty Servant and The World's End, the boys end up running for their lives. I'll leave it at that, since half the fun is finding out why.
It's no accident that Wright set The World's End in another suburban village, as he did in Hot Fuzz and (briefly) inShaun of the Dead. His distaste for orthodoxy and obedience manifests itself as Newton Haven, and with Gary, he's created a jagged foil to tear it all apart. It's funny, but that doesn't make it any less bleak.
Perhaps that's the point. This is the last chapter of Wright, Pegg and Frost's so-called Cornetto Trilogy. They'll work together again, but their incredible run is over. Now, they have no choice. They have to grow up.
As entertaining as The World’s End may be, it’s got tough company in the late-August lineup.
Short Term 12 is the best movie you will see this summer. It's a complete triumph, a passionate reminder of what talented people can accomplish when they dedicate themselves to an ambitious, nuanced, delicate story. See it as soon as you can. Don't even finish this review. Go buy a ticket now.
Hmm, still here? Okay then. I guess I'll just have to convince you.
Short Term 12 is set in a foster-care facility for "at-risk" teenagers. What are they at risk of, exactly? Not each other. These aren't violent kids who want to fight or maim or kill. They aren't underage criminals who skirted juvie or jail time. The "at-risk" who land at Short Term 12, as the facility is called, are abused children. They're only risks to themselves. Grace (Brie Larson), her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), and two other twentysomethings are tasked with taking care of them all: Marcus (Keith Stanfield), an intense 17-year-old who fears adulthood; Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a tough, witty girl who cuts herself; Sammy (Alex Calloway), an emotionally stunted boy; and a handful of other minors with nowhere else to go.
While it opens with a series of well-composed scenes that introduce these characters, Short Term 12 truly hits its stride once Grace spends time with Jayden. Writer and director Destin Cretton uses that relationship to raise insightful questions about the literal and symbolic scars of emotional trauma. What does it take for a victim of abuse to lower her armor? How does an adult earn a child's trust? Can someone function when he doesn't know what a normal life is like? As Grace asks herself these questions, they seep into her life with Mason -- and raise new ones about her difficult past.
Larson is a genuine revelation as Grace, embodying the life of a woman who must rely on silent courage to keep away from her demons. She has armor, too, and Larson does her most brilliant work as it begins to shatter. It's an outstanding performance made remarkable by Larson's utter control of character. Watch her face as Grace struggles to express herself. Watch her eyes. They're aching.
I'll keep this simple: Short Term 12 deserves to be seen because it's a daring, devastating movie about abuse. Cretton treats his characters with exceptional respect. He's telling a valuable story that's closer to reality than many of us realize. America is littered with Graces and Masons and Marcuses and Jaydens and Sammys. This is their story, and that matters.
See this movie. Please see it.