SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD
DIRECTED BY Lorene Scafaria
STARS Steve Carell, Keira Knightley
Keira Knightley and Steve Carell in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Photo: Focus Features)
Call it this summer's Garden State. Tag it this season's 500 Days of Summer. No matter what angle is adopted, it's clear that Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the sort of top-notch humanist picture that's always appreciated at a time when most other movies are striving to be the biggest and the best.
Seeking a Friend, on the other hand, is small in scope and focus, even as it touches upon enormous issues. The narrative states that an asteroid is heading to Earth, and as we join the story, we learn that all hope is lost and the planet will only be inhabitable for another few weeks. The beauty of the screenplay by writer-director Lorene Scafaria (whose shallow script for Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist did not prepare me for this) is how it views the different ways in which people might react to their impending doom.
Every single avenue of action rings true. Some party 24/7, fueled by illegal, hardcore drugs. Others continue to show up for work, as if nothing were out of the ordinary. Some folks go on a destructive rampage, looting stores, breaking into homes and beating up people (even the prospect of end times won't stop certain people from remaining losers). Yet others have wild, unprotected sex, no longer bound by traditions of matrimony or fears of pregnancy or disease. The survivalists retreat into underground shelters, figuring they can wait out the impending ice age or whatever Nature has in store.
And then there's Dodge (Steve Carell), who merely mopes around after his adulterous wife leaves him. But she's not the one he misses at this point. Unable to be with his "true love," the college sweetheart that got away, Dodge pretty much just wants to be left alone, a desire that goes unfulfilled after he makes the acquaintance of his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley). This British lass just wants to make it back to England to be with her family, which proves to be difficult since the major airlines have all shut down. Dodge suggests that an acquaintance who owns a small plane might be able to help, and so off they go, hitting the road with an abandoned mutt in tow.
Pairing a buttoned-down man with a quirky free spirit is a plot device that's been employed in hundreds — nay, thousands — of films, but Seeking a Friend takes care not to turn into a standard comedy about a mismatched odd couple. Dodge and Penny aren't presented as extremes, which makes it easier to believe that these two could emotionally and intellectually meet somewhere in the middle. Carell and Knightley are excellent in their respective roles, never overplaying the sentiment and making us believe that their characters can go about their lives even when they know said lives will soon be ending.
Given the subject matter, a delicious irony peeks through, since films about the end of the world often tend to be bloated, boring spectacles wherein the characters get lost amidst all the effects (exhibit A: Armageddon). This seriocomedy isn't like that, instead positing that the world will probably end not with a bang and not even with a whimper, but rather with a whisper — one most likely shared between two people whose decency and compassion cannot be snuffed out.