Those nostalgic for the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic will find much to like about The End of Us, Steven Kanter and Henry Loevner’s relationship dramedy that chronicles one recently-separated couple’s attempts to cohabitate after March 2020’s stay-at-home order. Everything that marked the beginning of quarantine is on full display: Tiger King, bread-making, copious amounts of wine, sudden unemployment, debilitating anxiety caused by fear-mongering news channels and social media feeds. It was a simpler time, one which not a single person alive would care to relive, especially as most of the globe is still desperately trying to regain a sense of normalcy in the face of continued catastrophe. It was inevitable that the re-emerging cinematic landscape would be inundated with movies tackling the pandemic in some shape or form, and it’s no surprise that those first out of the gate wield its specifics as novelty, a new wrinkle to tried-and-true formulas. Accordingly, The End of Us is a standard-issue rom-com with COVID proving the ultimate monkey wrench, as struggling actor Nick (Ben Coleman) and corporate executive Leah (Ali Vingiano) are forced to continue living under the same roof after a nasty break-up that coincides with the Corona-shit hitting the fan. Events follow a predictable path: petty squabbling leading to renewed feelings resulting from a night of binge drinking, which in turn of course leads to personal growth of both parties. Strike that, Nick attempts to improve himself, while Leah does stupid shit and regresses, but Kanter and Loevner don’t seem to recognize this, and so her arc feels muddled and incomplete, unless buying a dog signals maturity on her part — that detail is left unclear.
The filmmakers certainly stack the deck against Nick in the early going, painting him as some sort of immature man-child unable to properly communicate his feelings. But by film’s end, it’s the portrayal of Leah that seems borderline cruel, a bizarre choice that has the unfortunate hint of misogyny, no matter how unintentional it may in fact be. For their parts, Coleman and Vingiano actually exude a fair amount of chemistry, invaluable to a film of this nature, but their flaws, while realistic, also make them rather obnoxious company to keep for large stretches of the movie’s runtime. The question one has to ask when it comes to a movie like this — take note, more are surely in the offing — is: if you remove COVID from the equation, is this as effective? The fact that The End of Us is problematic even outside the specter of its pandemic trappings signals a flawed venture from the start. It’s the kind of film that will undoubtedly prove more interesting the further removed we become from March 2020, a snapshot of the minutiae that consumed and textured our isolated lives. But as a rom-com-styled portrait of a failed relationship, there isn’t a vaccine around that can save The End of Us.
Published as part of SXSW Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 2.