“The World’s End” is the latest brilliant riff on life, adulthood and the coming apocalypse (maybe) from the inventive writing team of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright as directed by Wright. This is the duo who gave us “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” and they have once again lived up to their comic inventiveness. Filling “The World’s End” with layers of meaning, all of it hilarious and some of it actually rife with psychological undercurrents, Wright and Pegg give us the story of Gary King (Simon Pegg).
Sitting in what appears to be a group therapy session, Gary begins recounting what he considers to be the apex of his existence. Twenty years earlier, upon graduation from school, Gary rallied his gang to do a commemorative pub crawl through their village of Newton Haven. Twelve pubs in one night on the Golden Mile culminating in a last beer in the last pub, The World’s End. But it was not to be as one after another of the “Five Musketeers” falls prey to one thing or another and they only make it through eight pubs. Still, for Gary, it was a glorious evening… until, like a scratch on an LP played by a hip hop DJ, one of his fellow groupees asks how it feels to have failed at his task.
We all know Garys; some of us may still be Garys. He’s that man-child who was cute in his teens, adorable in his twenties, tolerable in his thirties and now, in his forties, is completely annoying. He’s that guy for whom high school was the peak and he’s been trying to relive it ever since. All the old friends have dropped off and most, if not all, have reached adulthood with minimal damage, attaining wives, children and good jobs in the process. Such is the case with his former friends, none of whom regrets the lack of Gary in their lives. But, as in the Dolly Parton song, here he comes again, just when they had made it work without him. He waltzes in the door and proceeds to convince each of them that the others have agreed to retry the pub crawl on the twentieth anniversary of the first one; except it’s not exactly the twentieth anniversary and his lies about the enthusiasm of the others, especially that of Andy who long ago suffered an unmentionable injury due to Gary’s negligence, is like a Ponzi scheme of psychological manipulation.
Meeting together at the train depot and traveling together in Gary’s beater of a twenty year old car, they arrive back in the town from which they all swore they would never return. Nothing has changed, except everyone seems oddly friendly and disengaged. There are still some of the regulars who remember them, most notably their favorite teacher, but this lack of change seems oddly eerie. Still, nothing, but nothing will get in their way as they crawl back through the town for the Holy Grail of The World’s End.
Simon Pegg, both as writer and star of the film, understands fully how to inhabit the world of the perennial adolescent, narcissistic to a pathological degree and blind to the damage he wreaks. As the aforementioned former best friend, Andy, who had suffered some unmentionable harm at Gary’s hands, Nick Frost exudes charm, pathos and backbone. Frost, a frequent collaborator of Pegg’s and Wright’s, is an unlikely hero in roly-poly form. Paddy Considine, as Steven, is known primarily for his compelling dramatic work, but here creates a sharp edged counterpoint to Gary’s slackness. His sharpness, however, may be overcompensation for the midlife crisis he is undergoing. Meeting Sam again, played by the beautiful and luminous Rosamund Pike, the crush of his youth and sister of Oliver (Martin Freeman), another of the Five Musketeers, reduces him to a puddle of pubescent hormones. Oliver, independent, forthright and pragmatic, is an odd man out in this group as his only weakness appears to be a sensitivity to Gary and Steve’s recollections of his sister. He stands as a voice of reason; but there’s an undertow pulling at him. Unlikeliest in this group is Peter, a mature man with a family and a steady job, albeit still working for his father’s car agency. Under the surface of this henpecked man is a child longing to break free.
Strange things are happening in Newton Haven, none of which will be mentioned here in order not to spoil the pleasure of first discovery. Suffice it to say, “The World’s End” is as weird and hilariously wonderful as both previous Pegg/Wright films.
Pay special attention to the miniscule role of the boys’ former teacher who is still part of the fabric of the town these twenty years later. The actor, uncredited, is a hilarious, mesmerizing scene-stealer and if, in the unlikely event anyone had any doubts about his ability to command a screen both dramatically and comedically, this should put a stop to it. The casting of this film is beyond first rate and the believability of all the characters makes the ridiculous extremes to which Pegg and Wright go seem plausible.
Ignore all else this weekend and go see this film. Remarkably it has something for each age group and bears a second watching as the main question that arises at the end is “what really just happened?” I know I’ll be going for second helpings.
Opening wide Friday August 23.