A film review by Craig J. Koban June 27, 2012

SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD jjj
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2012, R, 101 mins.

 

Dodge: Steve Carell / Linda: Nancy Carell / Penny: Keira Knightley / Warren: Rob Corddry / Roache: Patton Oswalt / Speck: Derek Luke

Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria.

The world does indeed come to an end in SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.  And yet, this film is a romantic comedy…which it is odd, I guess, in retrospect.

However, this is unlike just about any other romcom that I’ve ever seen, mostly because it adheres to most of the genre’s conventions and ignores them all the same.  It concerns two lonely and downtrodden souls that find themselves coming together in the final weeks before the Apocalypse occurs and it does so with equal dosages of sincerity and uncompromising pathos.  The central dilemma that these people share is simple, yet damning: why develop new relationships with others if everyone on the planet will unavoidably perish? 

We learn during the film’s haunting introduction that a manned mission to stop a 700-mile-wide asteroid named Matilda has failed, meaning that in just 21 days the body will collide and make contact with Earth, destroying everyone and everything on it.  An insurance salesman named Dodge (Steve Carell) listens to the depressing news on a local radio station with his wife (played by Carell’s real wife, Nancy Carell) and he takes the end-of-days news about as well as just about anyone could.  His wife, on the other hand, does not: she feebly cries, exits the vehicle, and runs away hysterically, never to be heard from again.  It’s really frustrating to hear that you will die with everyone on the planet in three weeks, but when you’re wife dumps you on upon hearing that same news, then you know you’ve really hit rock bottom. 

Dodge does not seem to know how to emotionally process the news that all will cease to exists soon; he continues to go to work and field phone calls from his clients, despite the fact that his office is becoming more barren by the day (in one darkly hilarious moment, the few remaining higher ups hold a meeting to see who would like to take the vacated CEO position).  Some of Dodge’s clients inquire about an Armageddon package policy, which seems insanely hopeless upon modest scrutiny.  Perhaps being at work gives Dodge some semblance of normalcy in his last few days; everyone else around him, though, seems less tranquil.  The city and world around him is going ape-shit crazy; looters fill the streets, businesses are set ablaze, and some people kill themselves (one crashes right into Dodge’s front car windshield as he’s pulling out from his parking spot). 

He seeks further escape with what few friends he has left.  He goes to a house party hosted by one of his friends (played dementedly by Rob Corddry and Connie Britton) that is filled with mass amounts of binge drinking, freewheeling drug use and promiscuous sex with anyone that’s willing (why bother with contraception or condoms, because, hey, no babies will be born before the world ends).  Being surrounded by a mass orgy saddens Dodge even more.  He wants to carry on the last 21 days alive with a purpose and meaning that does not involve going into work, wasting away at home watching 24-hour news coverage (complete with countdown clock) or watching his bohemian friends get totally wasted. 

 

 

He eventually decides that he wishes to look for the love of his life that got away before he married his now-estranged wife, an old high school sweetheart named Olivia.  His mission, so to speak, crosses paths with his downstairs apartment neighbor named Penny (Keria Knightley), who is emotionally damaged goods like Dodge.  They have a very odd meet-cute as far as romcoms go: she appears outside his window sobbing and he invites her in, but on two respective promises: he won’t rape her and she won’t rob him.  Penny is a Brit and desperately wants to get home to see her family one last time before oblivion, but since commercial air traffic has been grounded all over the world a trip is impossible.  Dodge claims to know someone that could fly her and makes her a deal: he will get her to the pilot and plane if she helps him find Olivia.  Of course, as these polar opposites embark on a road trip beset by surprises and dangers, they find themselves connecting. 

If there were a weakness to SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD then it would be that the central budding romance between Dodge and Penny hits most of the conventional beats in the romcom playbook.  The arc of these unexpectedly brought together souls falling in love is predictable.  Yet, just about everything else in the film consistently resists predictability.  The journey that Dodge and Penny go on to unavoidably become lovers circumvents what we expect from these types of films.  SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD looks at a wide cross-section of people and how they individually – or in groups – respond to the doomsday news of the asteroid.  At times, the film approaches macabre hilarity, pitiful melancholy, and irrepressible madness at the same time.  

Dodge and Penny meet many people on their trek that respond to the end of times in different ways.  One man picks the pair up while they hitchhike (William Peterson) who reveals to Dodge that he has hired assassins to kill him unexpectedly at any time, which seems perversely…right…seeing as that would be a better end than waiting for the meteor to hit.  Later, Dodge and Penny are arrested and briefly incarcerated by an inane do-gooder police officer who deals with the end by still enforcing laws (he jails them for, of all things, speeding).  One of the film’s most sinister and funny sequences has the pair coming through the doors of “Friendsy's”, a restaurant in the middle of the country where, yup, everyone is your friend.  The workers and patrons of the establishment are almost inhumanly happy and outgoing, which makes this pit stop for Dodge and Penny all the more…creepy. 

The performances and chemistry between the leads is of chief importance here, and Carell and Knightley make a plausibly inviting and easy-going couple amidst the backdrop of society as a whole imploding.  Carell in particular might be one of the best actors around at playing whispery and introverted low-key despair and his work here is complimented nicely by the bubbly Knightley, who has a tricky task of conveying a woman who has boundless optimism and energy, but inside harbors deep seeded fears and regrets.  Martin Sheen also shows up late in the film in a graceful and disarming performance as a man from Dodge’s distant past that serves as an epicenter for both Dodge and Penny’s need for closure and reconcilement in the world before it dies.  

SEEKING AN END FOR THE END OF THE WORLD has been horrendously advertised as a comedy, which is a mistake.  The film is funny, to be sure, but it does not sensationalize its end of the world subplot for cheap, sitcom-worthy laughs; rather, the film is, at times, brutally unflinching and pretty accurate regarding how human behavior alters when people are given advance notice of their demise and the world’s destruction.  The script (written by the film’s director, Lorene Scafaria, making her directorial debut after penning films like NICK AND NORA’S INFINITE PLAYLIST) miraculous has both a happy and a sad ending.  Happy in the sense that Dodge and Penny have truly found what they were looking for all of their lives and sad in the overwhelming sense that – when the world does end – their lives and future aspirations will be dashed with a devastating finality.  In the face of all out annihilation, it’s inspiring how Dodge and Penny achieve peaceful serenity with all of the lunacy that's going on around them.

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