As pandemic break-up romantic comedies go, “The End of Us” isn’t half-bad. It turns out “less is more” in such films, and “End” scores over the big-budget “Locked Down,” the British “Together” and the French Netflixer “Stuck Together” by getting the simple things right.
Chemistry is paramount, and little-known stars Ben Coleman and Ali Vingiano have it, especially in their just-broke-up-and-quarantining-together brittleness.
The situations are simple in the extreme — impatiently seeking match.com matches while still sharing a house with your ex, “dating” during social distancing, quarrels over petty nothings, childish “I’m prepping for the L-SAT. I think I want to be a lawyer” and “I’m finishing my ‘Einstein’ screenplay delusions.
And the conclusion is more logical than satisfying, much like “the end of COVID” which we all looked forward to before certain governors and gubernatorial candidates with dreams of political superstardom made prolonging COVID-19 their brand.
Nick is an LA actor who can’t get busy live-in love Leah to put-aside her brokerage firm’s homework long enough to get her to run lines, undistracted, with him. Put another way, she’s the breadwinner propping up this “leech” who is “still working on himself” into his 30s, a grown-ass man still part-time bartending, still scrambling to find enough acting work to justify his effort.
The first real “joke” here is how self-absorbed (LA draws them like flies) they both are, and how they pretty much miss the coming shutdown/lockdown that is days in the making. She’s puzzled when the parking lot at her office is empty. He’s put-out that his audition is canceled, then his bartending gig is gone.
That’s the perfect time for her to chew him out and for him to storm out. But he can’t. And she’s not shocked to find him back “home,” either. He’s heard of a succession of “immuno-compromised” and the like excuses by phone. She’s getting a lot of cheerleading from friends for kicking him out, stuff of the “FINALLY” and “about damned time” variety.
That’s not the way it actually is. But there’s no taking back what’s already been said, no mending that which is permanently shattered. They’re stuck together, with him annoyingly-playing assorted keyboards and her struggling to hang onto her job and seeking further counsel from friends about this “ex” of four years still living under her roof.
The twists in the story include attempts to date while still trapped with each other, the form such “dates” took under lockdown and the slimmest glimmer of residual feelings emerging within a parade of google searches for “COVID-19 deaths,” Fauci press conferences and — lest we forget — montages of TV coverage of the inept lies, whining, blundering and attempts to cash-in on the crisis by the TPG, the fellow in the White House in America’s darkest hours.
Vingiano does a fine job of suggesting that Leah’s “needs” are battling, hammer and tong, with her sense of pragmatism as she tries to “maintain boundaries” with Nick and take up with an online connection (Derrick Joseph DeBlasis) without Nick finding out about it.
Coleman gets across confusion, hurt and little self-reflection as he brings a little something extra to the proceedings by providing much of the forlorn, pseudo-Parisian score by playing the harmonica-like mouth-blown keyboard called a Melodica.
The arguments are testy, but not nuclear. The “history” is sentimental and palpable, but with no promise of a “future.”
And the production is no more ambitious than working conditions would allow, serving up little reminders of lockdown lunch-dates — car-to-socially-distanced-car — and early COVID paranoia.
Joggers got no peace running down the wrong street. Someone was sure to yell out, “Could you put on a mask, please.”
Someday, we’re going to be nostalgic over all this, as one character suggests. Of all the movies made under COVID conditions and about COVID conditions, I have to say “The End of Us” is the one that hits closest to home.
Rating: R for language and sexual references
Cast: Ben Coleman, Ali Vingiano, Derrick Joseph DeBlasis and Gadiel Del Orbe
Credits: Scripted and directed by Steven Kanter and Henry Loevner. A Saban Films release
Running time: 1:32