After his wife unexpectedly leaves him, Dodge (Steve Carell) finds himself alone in the face of impending doom. As the people of Earth wait out their final days – an asteroid is heading straight for the planet – Dodge becomes friends with his neighbour Penny (Keira Knightley) and the two set off on a road trip to find Dodge’s high school sweetheart.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World takes a slightly different view of the apocalypse to last year’s brilliant Melancholia. Admittedly, Dodge slips into a depression three weeks before the world is to end, but this is the depression of a man who always thought he had more time. Steve Carell has made quite the cinema career playing sad sack middle aged men who are actually quite sweet – Dan in Real Life, The 40 Year Old Virgin – and Seeking a Friend… is no exception. Through the first act of the film, Dodge finds himself drifting through his final days in a daze. His friends drink and party like its 1999 but Dodge is already mourning the loss of the world and his future. It is only when he discovers Keira Knightley crying on his fire escape – and the mail of his she has had in her apartment for months – that he finally begins to see all is not lost. Carell is sweet and kind throughout the film and his interactions with people feel genuine and warm.
Keira Knightley plays the quirky girl next door who is as active as Dodge is passive. She seems to have freewheeled through her life, and it is only when she believes that she will never see her parents again that she is moved to action. Knightley is fine in the role, but she never really stretches herself. That said, the relationship between Penny and Dodge is odd and sweet, even if it does feel like Knightley is ‘acting’ her way through the film, rather than creating a real character.
Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Gillian Jacobs and Martin Sheen back up Carell and Knightley. Each play characters that react in different ways to the end of days, but each is mostly believable, if slightly over the top.
If it were not for the impending apocalypse, Seeking a Friend… would feel very similar to writer director Lorene Scarafria’s last film; Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Seeking a Friend… is Scarafria’s first foray into directing and she manages the job adequately although at times the film feels patchy. Scarafria’s screenplay examines what people do in the face of insurmountable odds – some riot, some turn to adultery or drugs, some carry on as normal – and the fact that the central characters find love and companionship with one another is sweet, if predictable. There are some interesting touches as well, such as which possessions people grab when running for their lives, as well as the contrast between people still seeking promotion at work and others just enjoying the time they have left.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a film that doesn’t know whether it is a rom-com or an existentialist examination of The End, and struggles because of this. In the end, the film comes down somewhere in the middle and, while it is a little long and muddled at times, it is sweet and warm. Also, the soundtrack is excellent, and there are some great cameos. In all, Seeking a Friend… is the other side of the Melancholia coin; the world is ending, and the characters squeeze out as much happiness from their final days as they can.