It seems fitting that on the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, I should watch a COVID-19 rom-com. Two millennials, Nick (Ben Coleman), a Teva sandal of a man, and his girlfriend, successful, rule-follower Leah (Ali Vingiano), have a long overdue break-up just in time for California – and the rest of the world – to shut down due to coronavirus. He has nowhere to go; she lets him stay. Things get ugly, things get better, they grow, they forgive, the pandemic continues around them.
I realize I’m not breaking any new ground here by saying this, but guys, too soon—way, way, way too soon. Nostalgia may be at its breaking point if a movie asks me to be reminiscent about 11 months ago. It was a simpler time when I baked my own bread or had a telemedicine appointment because I convinced myself I was infected with a deadly virus, despite my travel being limited to luxurious trips to the mailbox.
Appropriately enough, BuzzFeed produced The End of Us, and it does sometimes feel like a “Find Out What Phase 1 Pandemic Activity You Are?” quiz come to life. The film, written and directed by Henry Loevner and Steven Kanter, is light on plot (what I described above is generous), which suits the film’s style, bringing us back to a time we were convincing ourselves life would be back to normal once the warm weather hit.
There is a very, very, very interesting film (and sociological study) to be made about the straight cis white men who didn’t take the pandemic seriously due, in part, to pervasive and possibly unconscious toxic masculinity and the women who love them. This film is not interested in being that sociological study, which is ultimately for the best. However, when the script digs just a little deeper, I found myself connecting with it more. For instance, after a series of unfortunate events, Nick gets in his car, screams, and then starts to cry. It’s a moment of catharsis that is very relatable. Whom amongst us has not had a complete emotional breakdown in their [car, shower, Starbucks drive-thru lane with a mask on]? While I don’t think it would suit the film to be a Blue Valentine-style disintegration of a relationship set at a COVID-19 care unit, some moments where the film digs in do resonate more than “oh yeah, I went on a FaceTime date, too!” I wish Loevner and Kanter put a few more of those beats in there.
The gender dynamics also leave something to be desired. Ben’s treatment of the pandemic (reluctant to mask, inviting people to the house) is all part of his lovable doofus persona. Meanwhile, Leah’s frantic concern over the COVID-19 turns her, at times, into a classic sitcom nag. Even more concerning, she’s “punished” for stepping outside of the COVID-19 bubble after a fling with her workplace crush potentially infects her and Nick.
While I stand firm not being ready or overly interested in a film about the pandemic we are currently living through, I wish that a movie about quarantine had a better sense of time. One of the aspects of this crazy COVID year ripe for parody or commentary is it’s perennially 26 o’clock on March 32nd. While the film acknowledges that by showing us how many days into quarantine our characters are, it’s hard not to look at them on day sixty-ish and think, “aww, you guys are so, so cute! This real-life Bird Box hasn’t even started yet!”
That said, the movie isn’t without its charms. The script by writer-directors Loevner & Kanter is consistently sharp, even if they are skewering something that isn’t far enough away to be funny yet. Coleman has a few stand-out moments, like his opening scene where he’s auditioning for a Ryan Murphy series that is “beneath him.” However, I found his character a bit insufferable, with Coleman’s performance the only saving grace. A himbo for the COVID-19 era, you could see him playing Billy Magnusson’s brother in a Dumb & Dumber remake (Please note: I do not want this). Vingiano is compelling as the “grown-up.” The script doesn’t give either of its lead characters much dimension (Nick is a manchild who needs to grow up! Leah is a stick-in-the-mud who needs to loosen up!). Still, Vingiano’s performance makes you want Leah to get out of this crappy situation and find the right guy, career, and reality show to binge. Derrick DeBlasis is also great as the aforementioned co-worker of Leah’s, the “type” of guy whose very specific brand of prevention is hidden behind a cute dog.