Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Lorene Scafaria, director and script
Starring: Steve Carell (Dodge Petersen), Keira Knightley (Penny Lockhart), William Petersen (Trucker), Melanie Lynskey (Karen), Adam Brody (Owen), Derek Luke (Speck), Connie Britton (Diane), Patton Oswalt (Roache)
End of the world films are “in” right now. Over the last few years, we’ve seen Lars von Trier’s very arty Melancholia, the crazy black comic Zombieland, American Indie Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day on Earth and even Pixar’s animated Wall-E. Going back a number of years, Canada’s Don McKellar won prizes with his dark and funny Last Night and, of course, Spielberg offered a near apocalypse in The War of the Worlds.
So, a new film treating the world’s demise with romance and a bit of humour was bound to attract attention, particularly with a cast led by Steve Carell and Keira Knightley.
End-of-the-world (duh!), science fiction, romance, road movie
Just like Melancholia, Seeking a Friend at the End of the World posits that another planet will appear in the galaxy and ram into Earth. Nothing can be done—and this film doesn’t deal with scientists trying to save the planet. Instead, it concentrates on ordinary people acting in extraordinary circumstances.
With less than a month left to live, society begins to crumble. With crowds rioting in the streets, even stodgy office workers give up on convention and start acting on their long suppressed impulses. Not Dodge Petersen, an insurance man, whose wife leaves him as soon as the crisis strikes. Dodge refuses casual sex and hard drugs from his suddenly liberated friends.
But as pressure mounts and rioting continues, Dodge does strike up a casual friendship with his free-spirited neighbour, Penny. A Brit, Penny misses her family and deeply regrets that she didn’t get it together to fly back to England before all commercial flights were grounded. Meanwhile, Dodge decides to find his old sweetheart who had written him a letter (what? No email?) that Penny had forgotten to deliver to him.
The two go on a road trip where they discover each other. (If this is a plot spoiler, you haven’t seen too many Hollywood movies in your life). The end of the world may be nigh but at least Mr. Carell and Ms. Knightley pursue a good neighbour policy to the bitter end.
A romantic film like this lives or dies on the quality of the leads’ performances. Knightley can be quite variable—excellent in Atonement, eye candy in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, less compelling in A Dangerous Method. She is certainly charming in this film; she makes Penny’s scattered bohemian character come alive. Carell is less interesting though he finally rises to the occasion in the final scene. Overall, the chemistry between them works but not at a truly compelling level.
This is Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut and she also wrote the script. The action moves along relatively briskly and the acting is fine. On the other hand, there is no sense at all of the apocalypse approaching. This is one end-of-the-world tale that almost has a happy ending; after all “boy gets girl.” It’s hard to tell at this point if Ms. Scafaria has a directorial future or not.
Will this film rock your end-of-the-world expectations? Not likely. But if you’re looking for a nice date film, head on down to the multi-plex.