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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

The problem at the very heart of Lorene Scafaria’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is that it is a one-joke movie whose one joke isn’t really even a joke. In fact, Scafaria isn’t so much using her central premise as a source for comedy, but as an excuse for the film’s scatterbrained and implausible plotting. Though the film’s two leads are surprisingly credible, and the supporting cast does a fair job at carrying the film’s comedic burden, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is too slight to be taken seriously, and too deadly seriously to be taken lightly. It’s a movie that probably won’t really satisfy anybody.

Dodge Peterson (Steve Carell) is a forty-something insurance executive whose wife literally takes off when the news breaks that the world is ending. Though his friends and neighbors (including several indie-comedy mainstays like Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, and Melanie Lynskey) try to cram in as much fun and consequence-free sex as they can before the end of days, Carell is in too much of a funk to join in. As he tells his cleaning lady (a downright offensive stereotype of a Latina cleaning lady) he regrets his whole life.

As chaos descends upon their city, Dodge makes a deal with his pretty young neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley). If she will drive him to see his old high school crush, he’ll take her to someone he knows with a plane so she can fly back to England and see her family. Carell has the good-guy, sad-sack archetype down so pat you wonder if he even has to work at it anymore, but the fact remains that he is a likable performer. Knightley is very talented and does what she can, but her character is a train-wreck of quirky-girl shorthand and bag-lady wardrobe. There’s no core to her, which is weird considering the movie was written and directed by a woman.

The two embark on a picaresque roadtrip which sees them encounter a suicidal truck driver, survivalist marines, a cop whose still trying to make quota, and a chain restaurant which the wait-staff have let devolve into an anything goes free-for-all. There is a tossed-off, arbitrary nature to these misadventures, as though they were written purely to pad the film’s running time and only made it in the final cut because nothing funnier was thought up in time.

Along the way, of course, Dodge and Penny start to fall for one another. This is in spite of the fact that the two of them seem to have nothing whatsoever in common besides the fact that, you know, they’re going to die in a week. When their final adventure turns out to be a visit to a person from Dodge’s past, that too is wrapped up in a nice bow entirely too quickly. Perhaps it is true that the apocalypse would sort of force things to a decision point, but the film relies on that notion too heavily.

T.S. Eliot once wrote that the world will end “not with a bang but a whimper.” Seeking a Friend for the End of the World does just that, whimpering off the screen to be forgotten shortly after. It’s almost an impressive feat, making so little out of the end of the world.

1 comment:

  1. A totally uneven film, but somewhat lifted up by Carell and Knightley's performances. Hopefully, Keira picks up more comedic roles for her because she's actually pretty damn good at them believe it or not. Good review John.