July 3, 2012 – I didn’t know what to expect from “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”, screenwriter Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut about relationships and bonds forming while an asteroid plunges toward earth and the end of the world is near.
Unlike other movies dealing with asteroids, such as Deep Impact or Armageddon, this film deals with the human emotions and the regular people, instead of the super heroes who save the world from doom. As it opens, the audience learns that the last effort to save the planet has failed, and there is nothing left that can be done.
Scafaria, of “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist” fame knew the studio was taking a big chance on an unknown female director, so she says she had to look for big names. Her cast is led by Steve Carell, who plays Dodge, a mild-mannered insurance salesman who’s wife literally runs away from him when they hear the news about the asteroid. Keira Knightley, plays Penny, his quirky neighbor, and after a few interesting twists and turns which brings them together, they set out to find a way to get Penny home to England (all flights have been grounded) and Dodge to his high school sweetheart, who he now believes is the true love of his life.
Together they tackle riots in the streets, suicides, murdering hit men and more chaos in a script that doesn’t know whether it’s supposed to be a comedy, a tender love story, or a poignant drama that questions the meaning of life. Turns out, it’s all three.
Most of the comedy comes in the beginning when the story is being set. The funniest moments come from an on-air news commentator who delivers bad news, then closes with such gems as, “Don’t forget to set your clocks forward for daylight savings time.” Or, when Dodge, who is still going to work every day, is asked by his boss if he’d like to be the new CFO since the position is now open.
Dodge also attends a pretty unique dinner party at a friend’s house, which they label “The Last Supper”. Guests include a whacky woman who is wearing everything she never had the chance to wear before, parents teaching children to drink shots of vodka and ignore the burn, party goers shooting heroine, and people talking about having sex without condoms because who cares. There are also some tender and funny moments between Dodge and his cleaning lady, who keeps coming back to do her job as if nothing is wrong.
But it’s not until the second half of the movie, when the tender moments between Dodge and Penny begin to surface, that the movie switches its mood. Their relationship is odd at first, then turns into a bittersweet love story, but one with an expiration date. Carell and Knightley, although probably twenty years apart in real life and on screen, share an interesting chemistry that really makes their relationship work. This is Carell at his best, playing the sensitive common man. Knightley’s performance is also top-notch, and together they make something this far-fetched seem believable.
One of my favorite scenes is when Dodge and Penny come across a long line of people on a Delaware beach about to be baptized, and at the gathering, it becomes clear they have fallen for one another. They share the afternoon with families and smiling children and beach bonfires. I think I’d rather be with these people at the end, rather than the crazy folks at the dinner party.
So, what would you do if you knew you only had a little time left? This especially important to me right now since I recently learned that someone I love has been handed a similar fate – life with a few months’ time limit attached to it. I watched the movie with him in mind, and heard his voice saying that he’s accepted his diagnosis and until he can’t any longer, he plans to live his life to the fullest.
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is one of those rare movies with something for everyone. You won’t be disappointed.