Seeking a Friend for the End of the World pits a meteor against Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley
June 29th 2012 · 0 Comments
What would you do if you only had three weeks to live? Perhaps you might want to say goodbye to family and friends, do a little traveling, or scratch an item or two off your bucket list. But how about if the whole world had only three weeks to live; would that change your plan?
Perhaps you might opt for a bigger-picture, humanity-affirming act instead. These are just some of the questions posed by the apocalyptic dramedy “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.” While the film does offer solid acting, some wry laughs, and a few genuinely poignant moments, it’s ultimately marred by wildly inconsistent tone and some head-scratching plot choices.
The film opens abruptly, with Dodge Petersen (Steve Carell) sitting in a parked car along with his wife. A radio broadcast announces that the multinational space mission to deflect Matilda, a massive meteor on a collision course with Earth, has failed.
Petersen’s wife wordlessly exits the car and wanders off, and we do not see her again. Dodge goes home alone, and continues to show up to his job as an insurance salesman for the next few days. He then attends a party with some friends, where drugs and free love abound, but can’t seem to find the motivation to join in the fun. Instead, he downs codeine cough syrup and cleaning chemicals in an attempt to kill himself, but inexplicably wakes up the next morning, alive and well.
Back home again, Dodge spots a neighbor that he hardly knows crying on his fire escape. He invites her in, and he and Penny (Keira Knightley) share some of their stories with one another. Later, Penny gives Dodge some months-old mail that was misaddressed, and he learns that his long-lost first love, Olivia, wants to see him again.
Penny, for her part, is desperate to get home to England to see her parents, and Dodge just so happens to know someone with a plane. They agree to travel together in pursuit of their respective goals, and they manage to narrowly escape a violent riot breaking out nearby.
All of this exposition happens quite quickly, and the rest of the film chronicles their attempts to fulfill their final goals. Without giving too much away, suffice to say that their priorities change quite a bit as the asteroid grows ever closer. The pace also slows down considerably, leaving plenty of room to build the characters of Dodge and Penny. Carell does quite well here, as he shifts Dodge from shell-shocked emotionless restraint to a desperate-but-charming sense of warmth and tenderness.
Knightley, on the other hand, doesn’t quite pull her weight. It’s hardly her fault, however, as Penny is written as the stereotypical quirky, pixie-haircut, indie dream-girl. One could imagine Zooey Deschanel or Mary Elizabeth Winstead in this role without much effort. Viewers who are easily swayed by hollow cuteness are certain to be suckered, but mileage may vary.
The plot, too has some issues. While it is admirable that the film is willing to take its time and commit to character, there’s a certain sense of directionless meandering that may leave viewers aching for more narrative advancement at times. Some of these meanderings feel ill-suited to the tone of the bulk of the film as well.
Some of the film’s more compelling statements about human nature (that some people would continue to show up for work when the world is about to end, clinging to a last bastion of normalcy, etc.) get dropped partway through, as we focus more closely on Dodge and Penny. Finally, the decision to shift their friendship into romantic involvement seems like a betrayal of the overall tone and the title of the film.
On balance, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” gets enough right to make it worth watching, but it’s certainly not for everyone. You can get the same effect of watching this film by screening Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” (wherein an unlikely pair of older man and young, directionless girl gradually become friends) or Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia.”
If you liked the search for long-lost lovers from Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers” (2005), then “Seeking a Friend” might be right up your alley. Anyone who prefers more conventional romantic comedies or tidy, predictable plots will likely be disappointed. It’s really a shame that this film has the flaws that it does; with clearer direction, it might have been something really special. As it stands, it still makes for worthwhile viewing for those with patience and a thoughtful disposition.
By Mark Ziobro