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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Surprisingly Deep Impact"
4 stars

Just as there are any number of different ways that a person can respond to the approach an actual apocalyptic event--the kind that cruelly leaves you with enough time to contemplate the enormity of all that will be wiped away in an instant and not nearly enough time to be able to do anything about it other than to reshuffle the metaphorical deck chairs--there are just as many various approaches that a film on the same topic can take. There are the big, brawny effects-laden blockbusters like "Armageddon" that are all about watching a few good men (with maybe one woman in a supporting role) race against time to save the day while stuff blows up around them a la "Armageddon" and the like. There are the metaphysical and metaphorical head-spinners along the lines of "Melancholia" or "Donnie Darko." There are bleakly funny comedies like the legendary "Dr. Strangelove" and the lesser-known but still hilarious "The Bed-Sitting Room" (following the few survivors of the world's shortest war as they traipse around the ruins of London and struggle a stiff upper lip even as the rest of their bodies begin mutating into. . .well, see for yourself. Hell, there was even a nifty little 1998 film from Canada called "Last Night" that saw the end of the world through a filter of bemused resignation--in one key moment, a woman entered an abandoned liquor store in search of a bottle of wine with which to toast the end of times, picked up and examined two still sitting on the shelf and then put one back before leaving with the other.

However, it is unlikely that many people contemplating end-of-the-world narrative frameworks have ever contemplated fusing the apocalypse with either a romantic comedy or a road movie--after all, those particular genres often tend to be about new beginnings and how much of a beginning can there be when the end of the world as we know it is extra-nigh? Proving itself to be ambitious if nothing else, the new film "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" attempts to tell such a story by combining both the rom-com and road movie genres in order to create a sort of feel-good story about the ultimate feel-bad situation. If nothing else, the film deserves a few points just for its sheer audaciousness but it turns out to have more going for it than sheer nerve. This is a smart, sweet and thoughtful movie that contains a number of enormously funny scenes as well as a couple of surprisingly touching ones as well and the end result is an off-beat winner that would be entertaining enough on its own but whose low-key charms stand out even better in contrast to the high-decibel hinkiness that has marred too many of this summer's blockbusters so far.

Like any number of movies of this sort, "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" begins with an asteroid hurtling towards Earth and a lone shuttle crew flying towards it on a last-chance mission to save all of humanity. Unlike those other movies, the mission fails spectacularly and we see a couple sitting in a car listening to the radio as the newscaster cheerfully announces that all is lost and that the no-fooling end of the world will occur in exactly three weeks. The woman does not take to this very well and gets out of the car in order to flee into the night while the guy, her husband, just sits there. This is Dodge (Steve Carell) and as we see him over the course of the next few days, it appears that he has chosen to take the news with not much more than a certain degree of simple resignation--he continues to show up for his job as an insurance agent (sure, not many policies are being sold but at least in-house promotions are readily available), he can't bring himself to tell his cleaning lady that she really needn't bother coming back any more and when he falls asleep in the park one night and wakes up to find himself in charge of someone else's dog, he does indeed begin caring for it. His friends throw an orgy of decadence ("Look--they brought heroin") and hope to set him up with someone but he can't even bring himself to indulge in that particular area. Granted, he may not be as brutally depressed as Kirsten Dunst in "Melancholia," for example, but let us say that for him, the asteroid probably can't get there soon enough for his tastes.

What changes things for him is one of the more bizarre meet-cutes in movie history as Dodge finally meets next-door neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley), who greets him with the deathless line "I won't steal anything if you don't rape me." Before long, each one confesses that they actually do have people that they wish they could see for one last time--Dodge's first love and Penny's estranged family--and they decide to get out of town and help each other find their significant others; she will drive him to the old flame and he will hook her up with an acquaintance who can fly her home. Once they hit the road, the two find themselves running across a cross-stream of people who are all facing their annihilation in unique ways. Penny's ex-boyfriend (Adam Brody) turns up and demonstrates that he isn't the sort to let the upcoming end of times or a happening-right-then riot interfere with him whining at length about his needs. There is an avuncular type who offers up numerous homespun pieties about the preciousness of life but very little in the way of follow-through, if you know what I mean. There is a Applebee's-like restaurant where the staff's forced jolliness as mutated into outright madness--in other words, no appreciable difference from an ordinary Applebee's franchise on a normal Friday night. There is a cop who is still determined to prosecute even the most minor of traffic infractions to the fullest extent of the law. There is even another old boyfriend of Penny's, (Derek Luke) a survivalist type who has jam-packed a shelter with enough necessities to help one survive virtually any imaginable disaster--other than the impending one, of course. Through these events and many more, Dodge and Penny find themselves unexpectedly growing closer to each other even as they inevitably get closer to the point where they will part and discover that they still have the capacity to surprise themselves and each other in the process.

"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Lorene Scafaria, who previously penned the adaptation of "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist." That film, you will recall, was another offbeat romantic comedy about a mismatched pair who are unexpectedly thrown together on a quest (an all-night search for a top-secret concert by some rock band with complicated pants and the like) and undergo a series of misadventures that eventually draw them together despite all the complications thrown before them. This time around, the stakes are somehow both bigger and smaller but the results are still similar--a character-driven romantic comedy featuring people in a very specific set of circumstances that still manage to hit upon any number of universal truths. Both as a writer and director, Scafaria does an excellent job of shifting between scenes of high comedy that inspire big laughs with moments of unexpected heart and humanity that are deployed with a disarming sense of sincerity and humanity. Unfortunately, these quieter moments, which are among the best things on display, are not the kind of thing that effectively sell a film and as a result, the trailers and commercials for "Seeking a Friend. . ." have been stressing the broadest comedic strokes and namecheck the appearances by such renowned comedians as Rob Corddry and Patton Oswalt even though they may actually have more screen time in the ads than they do in the movie proper. As a result, viewers going into the film expecting the raucous goofiness promised in the ads may be surprised to find that it is more laid-back and thoughtful than advertised but once it begins to sink in with them, I think (at least I hope) that those people will nevertheless respond to its charms.

A good number of those charms come from the inspired casting of Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as the asteroid-crossed couple. Perhaps the best representative of the contemporary Everyschmuck that we have today, Carell is spot-on casting as Dodge and indeed, this is perhaps the best and most touching work that he has done since his big breakthrough in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." As with that film, he offers up the kind of crack comedic timing needed to sell the laughs along with the kind of gently browbeaten and borderline melancholic demeanor needed to make the more dramatic scenes convincing as well. This is a role that could have easily been played simply for laughs and it might have worked along those lines to a certain degree but because he is able to bring a certain amount of pathos to the part as well, it lends a certain gravity to the proceedings that is undeniably effective. As for Keira Knightley, I realize that, for reasons that I do not fully understand, seems to really irk some moviegoers but she brings the charm and then some to such a degree that even some of those naysayers may find themselves falling under her spell once again. Together, Carell and Knightley bounce off of each other beautifully and because we find ourselves liking and caring about what happens to them, even though we know exactly what is going to happen to them, we are more than willing to follow them on their adventures right to the bitter end.

Which brings me to what is perhaps the most important and most potentially perilous moment in all of "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"--the ending. This is one of those films where literally everything about it depends on whether or not it sticks the ending because if it falters in that regard in even the slightest, it could pretty much ruin the entire thing. There are so many ways in which Scafaria could have mucked up the final moments--either via a failure of nerve ("Oh look, the asteroid wound up missing us") or a failure of execution--that even though I was enjoying the rest of what at I was watching, I found myself growing a little nervous as the ending approached. Obviously, I am not going to give away what happens but I will note happily that Scafaria finds just the right note on which to end her story and the result is a scene that is, in its own quiet way, just about perfect. In fact, I can think of only one way in which the last scene of this film could have possibly been better and that is if it had also been the first scene of "Rock of Ages."

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23174&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/21/12 21:59:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/24/15 brian Funny first act, slow second act, excellent third. Yeah, worth seeing. 4 stars
11/17/12 Edler Lame! Uninteresting characters; no chemistry; Carrell's sadsack is old and boring! 2 stars
7/24/12 wickedwoman25 loved!! but didnt like ending. 4 stars
7/09/12 Andy A very interesting way of spending the last day before the world ends 3 stars
6/30/12 Bill Loved it. You could have heard a needle drop in the theater when the screen went black 4 stars
6/24/12 ivy nelson bored by it, upset by the ending. went on your recommendation (on Nick's show). Sorry I wen 2 stars
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  22-Jun-2012 (R)
  DVD: 23-Oct-2012


  DVD: 23-Oct-2012

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