It’s another “the end is near” film only this time the object isn’t saving mankind or the planet. Instead, inSeeking a Friend for the End of the World, the purpose is to see how people would behave knowing that everything on the planet is doomed and doomsday is three weeks hence.
Writer/director Lorene Scafaria (she wrote the adaptation for “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) brings us this interesting, off-kilter view of the final days of several individuals. We know these are the final days because at the film’s open we are informed that the last chance to save the planet has failed utterly.
Steve Carell is “Dodge” who was unhappily married, working a job he didn’t really enjoy and is now wondering just what to do with his last three weeks. He happens to live in the same apartment building as Keira Knightley’s “Penny”, who is as free of spirit and uninhibited as Dodge is repressed. They come together after Dodge’s wife has departed (it turns out she was having an affair for some time) and Penny has had some problems with her live-in boyfriend “Owen”. She winds up on Dodge’s fire escape and he invites her in after an exchange of dialogue that was worn to death in the film’s trailers.
Soon things become uncomfortable, because not only are people’s morals slipping away with doom just round the corner, some are also getting violent and looting. So, since Dodge’s vehicle is no longer usable, they make their get-away in Penny’s Prius. But it turns out that you do have to put at least a modicum of gasoline into a hybrid at some point or they will stop running and soon the duo are undertaking their quest on foot.
The quest? Dodge wants to see, just once more, the girl who got away. Penny, who missed her last chance to fly home to England to watch the end of the world with her family is hopeful that Dodge really does have a friend with a plane who can take her home for the last time. Penny really wants to make Dodge’s quest successful because she did something that may have delayed this quest until it really is just too late.
How do people react when the end is near? In films like Armageddon and Deep Impact, there is some impossible yet plausible mission underway to save everyone on Earth to rivet all mankind to their television sets around the world. But here there is no such hope. The last effort failed already, remember? So people react in a variety of ways. Some go underground in hope of surviving the impending impact and returning to the surface someday. Others let go of all inhibitions, trying drugs and having sex with people they don’t know. Others, like Dodge’s maid, go about their lives oblivious, unaware that there really is no next week for them to return and clean the same apartment for the umpteenth time and no need to buy more cleaning supplies.
The journey that Dodge and Penny take is interesting and fun to watch, even humorous at times, but it grows tiresome fairly quickly. Clearly Scafaria intends for the two to become a couple at some point, either before or perhaps after Dodge finally sees and speaks to his lost love. Once that becomes apparent, everything else is merely a device to bring this about and set up the ending, where we will learn if movies really do always end happily ever after.
Steve Carell is best at comedy and while I’m sure there is a dramatic actor within him, he didn’t draw from that part of himself in this performance. Keira Knightley is trying to play the role of Penny as “cute girl”, but there’s an edge to her that most young, cute girls don’t seem to have. At least not quite to that degree. Her talent is undeniable but it isn’t displayed here to anywhere near maximum effect.
It must be noted that there are moments of sheer brilliance to be had in this film. One involves a completely and totally unexpected gunshot. Another is seen briefly in the trailer and involves a take-off on what a certain chain restaurant might be like if the wait-staff hung out and kept serving customers once doom was impending. But these moments are too few and far between to save the quirky but pedestrian fare we get most of the rest of the time.
We do get to see an underutilized Martin Sheen for a few moments in the third act in a role that comes with a surprise that is best experienced in a movie auditorium rather than here. I wish the structure of the film would have given him more of an opportunity to deal with the issues that we see too little screen time given.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, when all is said and done, is a film that deserved better and sadly, the mission to rescue it failed utterly.