Lorene Scafaria makes her directorial debut with Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Up until this point she’s only written an episode of Childrens Hospital, plus Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. She branches off from the softer comedy to tackle something much more serious and depressing. Seeking a Friend approaches the end of the world with a very real sense of danger, hopelessness and eventually fulfillment. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley light up the screen with dramatic, yet charming performances; while occasional cameos help bring everything together. Seeking a Friend is an exceptional end of the world drama that’s sincere and open, with only a few sophomore hiccups.
The end of the world is coming as an asteroid named Matilda is spotted, which will eventually collide with Earth and kill everyone on the planet. Dodge (Steve Carell) hears the news of a failed counterattack to take out the asteroid while he’s in his car with his wife. She instantly unbuckles her seat belt and runs away. She runs away from Dodge and their marriage and from that exact moment on Dodge starts to feel alone and afraid, which is why he got married in the first place.
Now, as the world starts ripping itself apart, Dodge finds himself hopelessly searching for that last stretch of life before his and the rest of the world’s ends. It comes in the form of a long-lost love that got away when he was just a young man. While returning to his apartment he runs into his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) who gives him months’ worth of wrongly delivered mail and in that mail Dodge finds a letter from the girl he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about and it sparks the idea to road trip to her place.
Penny is an unorganized, problematic and emotional wreck, having just broken it off with her boyfriend (again). She wants to go back to England to see her family one last time before the end and she runs into Dodge at just the right moment. He wants to embark on a journey to find a lost love and she wants to find the right love that she’s been desperately searching for. The two pair up for an end of the world road trip of a life time.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is one of those rare films that actually depicts what it would probably be like if the end of the world was soon. Director Lorene Scafaria finds all of the little details that makes the film a much more authentic experience. Some of these details help make the film a little darker and funnier, like watching underage kids get served alcohol from their parents or even watching people hire assassins to kill them, because they’re too weak to commit suicide. It’s these true moments that makes the film earn points for being clever.
The comedy continues to work in the background thanks to tons of perfectly placed cameos, including guys like Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry and T.J. Miller. They’re only on the screen for literally minutes, but the way they interact with our main characters always results in some sort of lunatic thinking or coping mechanism for the deadly apocalypse.
Steve Carell anchors the film as Dodge; the man who lived a life based on little risk and is now taking the biggest of them all. He’s not depressed like most people; he’s just kind of upset that he’s wasted all of his life doing stuff that doesn’t account for anything. He doesn’t see a point in finding new love or making new friends because he knows the end is coming quickly and it’ll wipe everything away. Carell knows how to convey these emotions because he’s a rare comedic actor that knows how to do drama very well. His comedy is present in the film, but it takes a subtle backseat, which allows for some of his more dramatic traits to come to the surface. I’m not usually one to compliment Carell, but he does an exceptional job with this film and it’s mostly because he’s able to completely transform on screen as a person, while still keeping that comedy we love him for spread out.
Dodge does a lot of changing by the time the film ends and Carell helps make it matter. He gives you initial reasons not to like Dodge or not to care so much about his problems, but the more he reveals his past regrets and hopes for the present the more you attach yourself to him and the more you really want him to find true happiness before the end.
Keira Knightley doesn’t leave as much of an impact, but that’s only because her character was written that way. She’s introduced as one of those crazy neighbors that wear her emotions on her sleeve and that doesn’t mix will with Dodge right away, but the two do grow on each other and on us as an audience. The more Penny blabbers on about all of the things she’s done the more you’ll start to realize how Lorene Scafaria is evening the playing field.
She makes her characters extremely relatable in ways that aren’t recognized at first. You might first connect with Dodge because he knows exactly what we wants to do with the rest of his short life and he doesn’t go about it carelessly, but then you’ll find yourself connecting with Penny because she’s honest and knows how to get around all of the bullshit. She may come off as a jabber jaw or someone that you might get annoyed with easily, but the more she opens herself up the more you’ll find to love.
Her road might have been a lot more interesting than Dodge’s, but both characters were searching for true love. The only difference is Dodge thought he found it in job security, living life by the books and marriage, where Penny thought she found it in dating the guitar players, doing the recreational drugs and living each day as if it were her last. What the two come to terms with is that true love just happens, without any rhyme or reason and without any notice. Sometimes two people are so incompatible for each other that it somehow makes them compatible.
Scafaria approaches this two opposites attract/end of the world dramedy with a sophomore sense of pacing, but aside from that the film hits almost all of the right notes. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World might feel long, depressing and sometimes hard to swallow, but if you stick with the film you’ll find some universal meaning that helps the film leave a lasting impact. The performances are good, even though the chemistry isn’t there at first. The comedy is background material that only helps pave the way for the dramatic importance of the story.
It’s refreshing to find a film like Seeking a Friend, because it never tones down the outlook of the entire film. From start to finish it’ll never really bring your hopes up about the pending end of the world, but it will show you how two characters find true love in the least expected place and how the horrible timing doesn’t matter when you’re really in love, because seconds can feel like a lifetime. It’s not a simple task to do all of this in such a doomed and gloomy environment, but Lorene Scafaria does it and almost perfectly.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – 8/10