A film review by Craig J. Koban June 27, 2012
SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF
2012, R, 101 mins.
2012, R, 101 mins.
Dodge: Steve Carell / Linda: Nancy Carell / Penny: Keira
Knightley / Warren: Rob Corddry / Roache: Patton Oswalt / Speck:
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.