The 2021 Independent Film Festival Boston came to a close last night, having presented a virtual slate that included great films like Summer of Soul and The Sparks Brothers. The online format only left a lingering feeling of imperfection during those more raucous, larger-than-life entries, which Soul and Sparks certainly are, as the communal theatrical experience must bring out even more of the Big Joy in those films. I’m not sure that’s the case for How It Ends, the Closing Night film from Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein, a movie so slight and lonely that screening it at home sort of fit the bill perfectly.
How It Ends follows Liza (Lister-Jones) as she tries to get to her last party before the world ends. A conspicuous meteor hangs over her citywide jaunt, scheduled for impact around 2am, and so Liza engages in much the same behavior as everyone else: she says “fuck it,” eats a stack of pancakes with a glass of maple syrup, and sets out to right a few wrongs with the people in her life before the apocalypse arrives. She’s accompanied by her Younger Self (Cailee Spaeny), who by turns keeps Liza in check and also spurs her onward into situations she might otherwise avoid.
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There are scores of film actors working today in what the U.S. smugly refers to as “Foreign Language Films” who are deserving of stardom on the international stage, and Omar Sy might be at the top of that list. The French actor began his career in 2000 with a string of appearances and voice roles in television and short films, and he gained notoriety in France in 2010 as half of a comedy sketch duo in a series called SAV des émissions. His true breakout was Intouchables (2011), a hilarious and poignant dramedy about an unlikely friendship between an ex-con and a quadriplegic millionaire. Sy is transcendent in this film, absolutely bursting with life and energy, and his efforts were rewarded when he became the first Black man to win a César Award. International fame, it seemed, should follow, and indeed over the next few years Sy made his English-language debuts in the X-Men, Jurassic and Transformers franchises.
None of those roles exactly called for an actor of Sy’s talents, though; I’m not even sure he had any lines as the mutant Bishop in X-Men: Days of Future Past. His appearances in these massively-recognizable franchises, frankly, are forgettable, which plays out as a near-impossibility after seeing how utterly unforgettable Sy is in the likes of Intouchables. This is not to say that becoming a household name in America is tantamount to having a successful acting career, nor that Sy should at all be faulted for appearing in these big-budget blockbusters. Predictably, though, Hollywood is a beneficiary of his Intouchables work in a way that excludes the actor entirely: the film was remade as The Upside in 2017, starring Kevin Hart in Sy’s role, a hollow retread of the original that went on to gross $122 million.
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