Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Cast:
Keira Knightley as Penny
Steve Carell as Dodge
Melanie Lynskey as Karen
Adam Brody as Owen
Gillian Jacobs as Katie
Connie Britton as Diane
Patton Oswalt as Roache
T.J. Miller as Chipper Host
Melinda Dillon as Rose
William Petersen as Trucker
Rob Corddry as Warren
Rob Huebel as Jeremy
Derek Luke as Speck

Written and Directed by Lorene Scafaria

Summary:
A great look at how people react to the end of the world makes a perfect setting for the odd couple pairing of Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley, but an uneven tone and a very restrained Carrell keep “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” from reaching its full potential.

Story:
Upon news that the world is going to be destroyed by a 70 mile wide asteroid in 21 days, Dodge’s wife leaves him. And she doesn’t just walk away from him. She literally runs from him. Now alone and facing the end of the world, Dodge finds himself lonely, depressed, and regretting his entire life.

As the world descends into chaos, Dodge meets his neighbor Penny. She has also broken up with her significant other and has missed the last flight back home to England to be with her family. Now these two lonely strangers start contemplating the end of the world together.

Penny discovers that Dodge has a long lost girlfriend that he still loves and Dodge reveals that he knows someone with a private plane that can fly Penny back to England to be with her family. So the two embark on a road trip in order to try and fulfill what’s left of their lives before the world is destroyed.

“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence.

What Worked:
I really love this story idea by writer / director Lorene Scafaria. It really explores how people would react if they knew they only had 21 days left to live. What would you do? Some get drunk and have endless sex. Some continue on with their daily routine as if nothing was different. Some commit suicide. Some party. Some tell off family members. Others attempt to reconcile. It answers the question of what people would do if they had no consequences or regrets from their actions. It explores what is most important to people when everything else is stripped away. Overall, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” ends up being a fascinating exploration of character and society.

But don’t think it’s all deep character drama – there’s a lot of funny stuff here, too. We see what news reporters do on TV when nothing matters anymore. You see Dodge’s friend Warren, played by Rob Corddry, get crazy with booze and fireworks. He also tells off his surly teenage son because, well, they’re all going to be dead in a couple of weeks anyway. Then there’s the bizarre T.G.I. Friday’s / Chili’s parody where a happy birthday song descends into an orgy. I’m going to think of that scene anytime I hear a birthday celebration at a restaurant from now on. So yes, it is the end of the world, but they do find the humor in it.

I’m a big fan of Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley, but they do seem like an incredibly unlikely pair for a romantic comedy, but that’s the point. These characters, who in any other circumstance would never have even spoken to each other, end up being the perfect person to spend the end of the world with. Knightley perfectly plays the carefree and emotional Penny. Carrell is his usual dramatic self – very restrained and melancholy. Their chemistry alternately works perfectly and doesn’t work at all, but the end result is a satisfying albeit unexpected pairing.

“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” also has a ton of cameo roles by well known actors and actresses, especially from TV. Gillian Jacobs from “Community” plays an overly friendly and high waitress. William Petersen from “C.S.I.” plays a trucker that picks up Penny and Dodge and has an unexpected character twist. Then there’s Patton Oswalt, T.J. Miller, Derek Luke, Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”), and Jim O’Heir (“Parks and Recreation”). Nancy Carrell, Steve’s real world wife, also plays his fictional wife who dumps him in the film. There’s also a surprise cameo by someone else in the finale, but I won’t spoil who it is or what character they play here.

As the movie progresses, you know it will have one of two conclusions – the world will be destroyed or it won’t. If it isn’t destroyed, all of the characters will have to deal with the consequences of their actions in those final days, but you may have a happy ending. On the other hand, destroying the world is the bolder choice, but it’s a pretty depressing ending. I had no idea which way it was going to go until the very end. I won’t spoil it for you, but I think you’ll be glued to the screen until the credits roll.

What Didn’t Work:
As much as I enjoyed “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” I felt it did have an uneven tone. The first half of the movie is actually pretty funny. As previously mentioned, we see people reacting to their final days in a lot of humorous ways. But as the film progresses, it gets more and more melancholy. And by the time we hear Penny’s fifth monologue about her family back in England, it gets a little dull. Towards the end it gets downright depressing. I’m not sure how it could have been done much differently, but it feels like two different films stuck together.

As much as I love Steve Carrell, his character is pretty dull. Three quarters of his performance is him quietly staring off into space and looking sad. The final quarter of his performance is him staring off into space with a smile. He’s very restrained to the point that he feels like he’s doing his best not to be comedic. It ultimately hurts the character of Dodge because we never really get a feel of who he is or why Penny would be drawn to him. I think Lorene Scafaria should have drawn him out of his shell a little more.

The Bottom Line:
Overall this is a fun movie and a clever script. It’s worth checking out, especially by fans of Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley.

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