It’s the end of the world, the apocalypse, yet again. A giant asteroid is hurtling towards the earth, ending the reign of mankind. Making popcorn entertainment out of mankind’s demise is a habit screenwriters just can’t seem to break. Moving away from vampire flicks, movie studios are now banking on the apocalypse. These are themes often explored by more serious science fiction films. Nevertheless, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World uses these elements as a backdrop to create a dark-romantic comedy. The resulting story has all kind of humorous and romantic notes, but despite the mess of moods, the underlying question remains: How are you going to spend your last days on Earth?
Steve Carell’s films usually fall into two categories; laugh out loud comedies (Date Night) and more serious drama comedies (Dan in Real Life), Seeking a Friend for the End of the World falls into the latter. While there are a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments here and there, most of it seems to only get in the way of the actual story. At a glance, it feels like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is two very different films stitched into one. One story is great, but the other is rather poor.
Carell plays Dodge, an insurance salesman who is deserted by his wife after the bad news breaks. All alone in the world, heartbroken and existentially vacant, Dodge is uncertain about how he wants to spend his last days. While most of the world reacts differently, the middle class parties it up and the underclass take to looting, he continues his life as normal – going to work, and continuing every day mundane chores. Although it’s incredibly morbid, Act 1 is surprisingly the funniest part of the film.
At Dodge’s lowest point fate intervenes and he meets Penny (Keira Knightley), a self-proclaimed serial monogamist and eternal optimist. Although they have lived in the same building for years, they have actually never met. It turns out Penny has three years of misplaced mail that belongs to Dodge. Amongst the bulk is a letter from his high school sweetheart –“The one that got away”. When riots break out in the city, Penny and Dodge head off in search of Dodge’s lost love. This leads them on all sorts of adventures across the country. Lorene Scafaria relies heavily on comedy to get us through act two. Unfortunately, this is the poorest section of the film – badly edited, poorly scripted, and a few awful performances from Knightley, who is simply irritating while striving to be adorable.
Just when I had made up my mind regarding Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, the film changes tone yet again, trading in comedy for a slice of romance. The third act is by far the most powerful piece of cinema; romance blossoms between the two most unlikely characters and true emotion builds in the finale, finding moments of utmost sincerity.
The comedy doesn’t work at all, but Seeking a Friend for the End of the World does a brilliant job with the romance elements.