Review: 'Seeking a Friend for the End' is More Emotional Than Funny
by Jeremy Kirk
June 22, 2012
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World begins where Armageddon ends, a darker version of the Michael Bay film where the shuttle is destroyed by the careening asteroid and only three weeks remain before impact. But Lorene Scafaria’s film tells a more personal story of humanity’s last days, one focusing on characters who are lost in life and who find themselves alone as the countdown reaches its end. Moving and funny but shaky in the balance between them, the film takes the dramatic tropes of classic disaster movies and casts them aside in favor of emotional drama, some decent comedy, and a highly engaging cast.
We hear the announcement of Earth’s last hope failing along with Dodge, played by Steve Carell, a man whose wife promptly gets out of the car and literally walks out of his life. Jaded and lonesome, the man goes through the final weeks of his life going about his business, driving to his insurance company job every morning and trying to talk his housemaid from coming back. She's devoted to her duty, though Dodge doesn't understand why she doesn't spend the time with her family. While his friends are throwing parties, sleeping around, and doing hard drugs, Dodge is content sitting alone and waiting for the meteor to hit.
On the other side of the Apocalypse coin is Penny, played by Keira Knightley, a British girl who lives with her boyfriend in the same building as Dodge. When Dodge discovers his high school sweetheart trying to reconnect, he makes an arrangement with Penny. If she accompanies him to find the lost love, he’ll help her get from the United States back to her family in Great Britain - He knows someone with a private jet and the last commercial flights have already gone out. Road tripping ensues.
What works best in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is what has to work best for this kind of road trip romantic comedy drama with a taste for the poignant. Anyone who’s seen a romantic comedy post-It Happened One Night knows precisely the direction these two characters are headed. What it boils down to is the believability in how their feelings grow for one another. Scafaria’s main characters are completely dissimilar, Dodge with his safety-first attitude and Penny with her outside-the-box way of life. But we have to believe in a connection between the two that reveals itself as their story unfolds.
As the days left on the calendar grow smaller and the number of eccentric side characters pile up around these characters, Scafaria does a fine job building the protagonist's relationship without obvious beats or forced emotion. The main relationship in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World feels organic, one of the best things you can say about a burgeoning love within a film. You find that Scafaria’s characters need each other, that the opposing forces in the other person are precisely what they needed at that point in their lives. The question, then, is whether or not they realize this about themselves, and the answer is both simple and moving. Scafaria's screenplay deserves much of that credit.
Carell and Knightley pick up a load of compliments from their performances here, as well. Carell might seem the obvious choice for Dodge, a man whose life seems to be a string of uncomfortable moments lined up one right the other. However, given the conceit of the film, the actor brings a quiet sadness needed for the role. Knightley, on the other hand, never bursts through the seams of her character, keeping Penny subdued to the point of believability. Their scenes together are genuine, and you buy their feelings for one another because you buy them individually.
But the real payoff on Scafaria’s premise is in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’s secondary slate of enigmatic characters. The writer/director takes this idea and runs with it, showing a variety of answers to the “What would you do if the world ended tomorrow?” question everyone has asked themselves at one point in their lives. Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, and Patton Oswalt all play Dodge’s friends, the people who find solace in hedonism in their final days. T.J. Miller and Gillian Jacobs play servers at a Friendsy’s, a T.G.I. Friday’s-esque restaurant whose employees have turned it into a drug-laden orgy. Derek Luke plays an old friend of Penny’s, a soldier who is preparing for the days after the meteor hits.
Though each of these actors match perfectly with their characters, the comedy doesn’t always work, sometimes slipping a bit too far into dark territory. It’s an imbalance in the film, tonal shifts that have very real moments of drama conflicting with jokes about heroin or suicide. Much of this subsides in the film’s last half, and you’re able to take in the story without it being muddied by casual strikes at pushing the envelope.
You do have to wade through that, though. While Seeking a Friend for the End of the World ultimately draws you into its emotional center, the first half of the film grows frustrating. It doesn’t completely work for anyone interested in either side of its flip-flop in mood. Fortunately, Scafaria finally does find the footing for her story and characters. Aided by commendable performances by its two leads, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a very optimistic movie told through a pessimistic blindfold. Even in the final days of your life, it’s never too late to find your one, true happiness. That, in of itself, is a message worthy of telling, even if it’s not all that funny.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10