Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Run Time: 1 hour 41 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Adam Brody, Tonita Castro, Connie Britton, Rob Corddry
Written & Directed by Lorene Scafaria (feature film debut)
In the opening scenes of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Dodge (Carell) and his wife are tuned into a radio station seated in their car. The announcer on the radio tells them that the space shuttle Deliverance has just blown up. Deliverance was mankind's last hope at destroying a gigantic asteroid that will destroy Earth and mark the end of humanity. But stay tuned to this station for your favorite classic rock hits.
And with that, the end begins, and there has never been a more accurate end-of-the-world survival story than this.
Movies of this genre always suffer from the limitations inherent in the story. If the world is going to end, then does anything we see really even matter? If the world is supposed to end and then it doesn't, doesn't it sort of feel like a rip off?
There have been several armageddon movies throughout the years, most depicted as horrific action tales as heroes fight to save Earth. Even last year we were treated to an end-of-the-world film with Melancholia, a small artsy film that showcased in a very serious way just how clueless and self-absorbed we really are when it comes to what is important...even in the face of impending doom.
Strands of Melancholia exist in this film, but Seeking a Friend is an altogether different and inspired take on what an impending apocalypse would really look like. You will not find shots of asteroids hurtling towards Earth, nor will you see much destruction at all. Like Melancholia, the world ending just so happens to be going on in the background. Of course, it drives home the point of things.
Upon hearing the incredible bad news, Dodge's wife simply runs out of the car and out of his life. We learn that there is exactly 21 days left and Dodge obviously begins looking at everything in a new light.
Dodge befriends Penny (Keira Knightley), who has lived in his apartment building but the two have never met. She prods him to find his long-lost first love, Olivia, and the two set out together in the world to make final arrangements dealing with the people and issues that matter the most.
Through Dodge's eyes, we see ourselves reflected in what is a sly and smart script by scribe and also first-time director Lorene Scafaria (whose writing credits include Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist as well as an episode of the amazing Comedy Central series, Childrens Hospital...of which several actors pop up). This is what reality would be if it was announced that the world was going to end. There would be riots and looting for sure, but for the most part people would be oblivious. I mean, the world is going to end in three weeks? I barely know what I'm doing tomorrow.
We see muscle guys at the gym still working on their body and people still going to work and carrying out mundane chores. Cops are still pulling over people and issuing tickets they'll never pay. TV anchors are still doing their best to keep the masses informed and Dodge's housemaid doesn't seem to understand why he keeps telling her not to come in next week.
More proactive folk stock up on supplies and weapons and hide out in bomb shelters while some others live out their wildest bucket list dreams. Sex without limits! Telling off people you've always wanted to! How would you spend your time if you knew the world would cease to exist in three weeks time?
The irony of course is that nothing matters. How could it? Everything is going to end. What takes this film's concept from good to great is how it positions this thought...isn't it true that everything ends whether or not an asteroid is headed for Earth? Whether or not it all ends in three weeks, or three years or in 50 years? It's really just another tale filled with messages about living life to the fullest, albeit it a very compelling one.
Steve Carell is great as he drifts through the film with a deep sadness that never lets us forget the gravity of the story. His relationship with Penny is the crux of the film, and sadly this is where things go a bit off. For every emotional tick that Steve Carell portrays subtly, Keira Knightley makes up for with over-acting. Dodge and Penny's relationship is so crucial to the film that it is a great travesty that Carell and Knightley have little to no chemistry together.
There are several bit parts including juicy roles for Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt and Connie Britton. Even Martin Sheen shows up later in the film as Dodge's former deadbeat dad.
When the lens is wide, Seeking a Friend is a triumph of emotion that accurately reflects human nature, warts and all. It is only when we get too zoomed in on Dodge and Penny where the film loses focus.
Still, it is an awfully smart drama-dy with a good share of laughs and enough truths to stock up a bomb shelter to the ceiling. It also manages to end the film softly and beautifully, which is an achievement all things considered.
This is one of those films where you'll laugh, you'll cry and then you'll probably wonder just what was missing from it that kept it from being great.
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