The End of Us premiered this week at SXSW Online 2021 in the Narrative Feature category. Written and directed by Steven Kanter and Henry Loevner, The End of Us follows Nick (Ben Coleman) and Leah (Ali Vingiano), a couple that breaks off their four-year relationship just as California issues its stay-at-home order for COVID-19. Forced to stay under the same roof for the time being, this film is part comedy, part drama as it explores the ups and downs of Nick and Leah’s lives in the aftermath of their breakup.
Before settling in for The End of Us, a brief thought crossed my mind: does watching a movie set in the throes of the COVID pandemic defeat the purpose of using cinema as a form of escapism right now? Absolutely. But if you’re going to make an exception for any pandemic film, this is certainly the one.
Right off the bat, there’s an immediate light and fun chemistry between Coleman’s Nick and Vingiano’s Leah in the film’s opening scene. Whatever’s still to come in the downfall of their relationship, we can trust these two to skillfully carry the story. This rapport between them remains consistent throughout the entirety of the film, and they manage to effortlessly flip the switch throughout the various stages of their separation — fighting, sadness, anger, making up, regret, other people, letting go — in a believable way that neatly fits in with the pacing of the story. Supporting actors like Derrick DeBlasis and Gadiel Del Orbe were excellent additions to expand upon Nick and Leah’s diverging trajectories (and DeBlasis’ awkward ex versus new guy standoff scenes with Coleman were an absolute standout). Despite the fact that the subject matter of the film isn’t anything new — since we’re all currently living it, etc. — the script was well-written with a precise and clever balance of heart and comedy.
For something that was an incredibly small production (in which Kanter and Loevner teamed up with producer Claudia Restrepo and tag-teamed the various duties on set) focused on the claustrophobic concept of quarantine and isolation, the landscape of the film surprisingly doesn’t feel stifling or limited. Nick and Leah’s home isn’t large by any means, but the team managed to capture the interior and exterior shots in such a way that each frame brings something new and interesting to the table, visually.
Despite the doomed nature of Nick and Leah’s relationship, The End of Us is a lighthearted film that gives instead of takes. Oftentimes, stories about breakups (in a pandemic, no less) can be mentally taxing, and viewers need to be prepared to leave a piece of themselves at the door in the aftermath. However, The End of Us carefully works to weave a thread of hope throughout the pages of the script. The ending of the film is realistic — the lead characters still have a ways to go on their new journeys — but there’s also so much healthy growth and a sense of self-actualization on both of their ends. When the final credits began to roll, I realized I had been so entirely engrossed in the little bubble (pun intended) of Nick and Leah’s lives that I would have gladly watched another hour of them continuing to work through their next individual chapters.
The End of Us provides an enjoyable, funny, and relatable slice of life pandemic narrative that isn’t quite an escape from today’s current climate, but rather just a reminder that we’re not alone in our struggles.
Also, Scout and Finley totally stole the show.