SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (2012)
Starring Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Rob Corddry, Gillian Jacobs, Derek Luke, Melanie Lynskey, T.J. Miller, Mark Moses, Patton Oswalt, William Petersen, Martin Sheen, Melinda Dillon and Nancy Carell.
Screenplay by Lorene Scafaria.
Directed by Lorene Scafaria.
Distributed by Focus Features. 99 minutes. Rated R.
There have been so many movies about the end of the world – this is the fourth or fifth I can remember in the past year alone – that you would think it would be nearly impossible to do anything new with the plotline.
Therefore, writer/director Lorene Scafaria, who is previously best known for writing Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist, deserves serious kudos for finding a novel approach to the whole Armageddon idea. It’s not totally unique – the mostly forgotten 1998 film Last Night also took a similar bittersweet path to doomsday – but Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is smart, funny, and touching look at mankind on the verge.
Most films about the end of days feel the need to pile on lots of Michael Bay-esque mayhem. Seeking a Friend… has a much subtler agenda. This is not the movie about Navy Seals who go into space attempting to blow up the super-sized comet plummeting towards Earth (although this does happen, off-screen and unsuccessfully – as reported on TV by a lone remaining news anchor). This is a movie about normal people who learn that this last attempt to save the Earth did not succeed. Suddenly the whole wide world’s approximate time of death is three weeks from today. How do you cope with news like that?
The story is played out by two everyman characters. One is Dodge, played by Steve Carell. He is an insurance salesman who has been unhappily married for years, doesn’t particularly like his job and longs for missed opportunities. His wife leaves him at the announcement of the disaster, to be with the man she really loves. For a bit he continues to go to work, but eventually the idea of selling life insurance policies to people who are not going to even survive the first payment becomes absurd to him.
He looks at the world around him. Friends and strangers have lost all inhibitions – looting to steal items they will barely have time to use, having sex with anyone that crosses their path, experimenting with drugs, giving alcohol to kids. Dodge, being a strait-laced guy, has no interest in those shenanigans. He is not sure what he is supposed to be doing for the end of the world, but he is relatively sure it isn’t that. So, he sits alone in his apartment, moping and drinking and remembering the promise his life once had. That is best symbolized to him in Olivia, the great love that got away in his life.
Dodge’s life changes when two creatures enter his life. The first is a dog who is abandoned with Dodge when he is sleeping off an Armageddon-inspired drunken stupor. A note with the dog reads “sorry,” so Dodge calls him Sorry. Suddenly this man who has never had anyone or anything depend on him – and who doesn’t even particularly like dogs – has a purpose, to take care of Sorry.
The second is Penny (Keira Knightley), a cute younger emo-ish neighbor he’d barely noticed before and never had spoken with. They bond over their mutual fear and disinterest in the rest of the world’s losing control. Eventually they decide to hit the road, to see if he can find his lost love Olivia, who has written him in a similarly nostalgic fit of “what if?” Also, they want to try to find Penny a plane in order to get her back home to England to be with her family when the end comes.
And that’s it, really. They hit the road, living out adventures, quietly becoming closer as time runs out for the world. Whether they reach their goal or not is almost beside the point. With only three weeks left on Earth, it’s all about the journey, not the destination.
Scafaria pulls off a shockingly nuanced mood, a bittersweet and frequently funny melancholia to the end of the world – rather than an all-out panic. The fact that the characters of Seeking a Friend… are able to make each other forget about the ultimate futility of everything is to its credit. Sometimes when all else is lost, friendship and love can make life worth living. For however long or short you have left.
That’s not a stance that Hollywood often takes in the big picture. Hollywood would rather have you believe that Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck will eventually save the day, but that is not this film’s agenda.
Instead, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World looks at the small picture, at the common man. Sometimes there really can be a happily ever after – even if “ever after” is only a matter of days.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 22, 2012.