REVIEW: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World [2012]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 101 minutes | Release Date: June 22nd, 2012 (USA)
Studio: Focus Features
Director(s): Lorene Scafaria
Writer(s): Lorene Scafaria

“You were the love of my life”

It’s easy to conjure images of post-apocalyptic wastelands, cryptic symbolism, and philosophical ruminations when one thinks about the end of the world. Hollywood uses this fascination to create science fiction actioners and depression-laden dramas each decade even though the layperson would never fall into such over-the-top cliché. Most John Q. Publics would let loose, create some sort of last minute bucket list, and live without consequence after years of cautious sacrifice and regret. Despite inevitable riots, chaos, and crime, one shouldn’t ignore the millions of people who’ve always chosen love over violence. And while Lorene Scafaria‘s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World may not be rooted in absolute veracity, its humanistic approach to the end of days is closer to reality than any high-concept, artistically daring vision could be.

The directorial debut from the Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist screenwriter, this look at Earth’s final weeks retains its quirk and sentimental heart. There is no chance for survival—an opening scene radio broadcast speaks about the failure of an Armageddon-esque attempt at destroying the fateful asteroid—so the story to follow isn’t interested in futile ideas of heroic grandeur. Instead it’s about the introspection of humanity and our ability to cope rather than prevail. This is why Dodge Petersen’s (Steve Carell) wife Linda (Nancy Carell) instantly runs off after hearing the news. Why spend your last days in a marriage you’ve checked out of years previously when you now have the freedom to live unencumbered? Sadly, for many it isn’t that easy to wipe away one’s guilt.

Count Dodge among this majority. He mourns his wife’s escape; hates the idea of meeting someone new for companionship, sex, or whatever; and refuses to partake in adultery as though some unseen slate had been cleared. No, he still goes into work every day—ironically as an insurance salesman—and comes home to languish in the isolation of being discarded. Mortality is a daunting concept to tackle, especially if you’re someone who holds morality to a high standard. So when a chance encounter with his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) proves he isn’t the only scorned remnant of a recently made bygone era that still owned a future, they find a common goal to rally around. He will find his long-lost first love and she will get home to England for one last parental embrace.

Love is what they seek when lust, manufactured joy, and adrenaline rushed excitement could have easily been acquired down the street. Hell, Dodge’s best friend Warren (Rob Corddry) and his wife Diane (Connie Britton) already threw a bash making any 1960s key party seem like child’s play with rampant sexual flirtations, grade school drinking ages, and heroin injections. The 21-day bender to the apocalypse won’t fill any voids, however, so the prospect of finding Dodge’s Olivia and hoping his acquaintance with a plane still has the gas to cross the Atlantic justifiably becomes more appealing. It’s not like this alternate journey will be without its own insanity anyway when restaurant orgies, suicidal truck drivers, and over-zealous ex-military types planning for the new world order are along the way.

This is why Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is so endearingly wonderful. Its leads have honorable intentions amidst anarchy; its supporting characters are a mix of remorseful, remorseless, dignified, and obscene; and it remains authentic at its core despite an abundance of hipster sensibilities. Penny grabbing hold of a few vinyl “friends” before leaving her apartment, a cute mutt named Sorry being left with a passed out Dodge to add some creature comfort, and the forced inclusion of an estranged father serving as a savior of dreams are just the bigger examples of overwritten, cutesy detail. Somehow, though, these flourishes never overpower the reality of Carell and Knightley opening their souls up to discover they needn’t go far to find their perfect match.

Scafaria examines the psychology of mankind’s mortality through two romantics stripped to their basic forms. Age is inconsequential, time is irrelevant, and past tastes are erased. When push comes to shove it all comes down to who’s willing to listen, relate, and selflessly provide themselves as a pillar of safety and strength when so many others are too self-absorbed to care. Carell and Knightley have a knack for beautifully internalizing their emotions until they can do so no longer. It isn’t a father/daughter, husband/wife, or brother/sister chemistry shared between them; it’s a genuinely felt compassionate love of one person to another without strings, rules, or expectations. We all deserve to be happy at the end whether it’s attained in a socially frowned upon manner or not.

Their friendship is a road of ups and downs, personal space, and full disclosure. The film isn’t about her exes’ adoration (Adam Brody and Derek Luke) or his willing partner in meaningless contact (Melanie Lynskey). What matters is how Dodge and Penny react and evolve despite them. Comic relief is injected everywhere through the likes of Patton Oswalt, T.J. Miller, and Gillian Jacobs just as somber acceptance is projected by Mark Moses, William Petersen, and Martin Sheen. It’s a who’s who menagerie providing every possible reaction available when faced with destiny and yet we never relieve Carell and Knightley of our attention. They represent us—broken souls who tried their best every step of the way. Their impossibly enduring smiles show it’s never too late to find true love.

[1] Keira Knightley stars as Penny and Steve Carell stars as Dodge in Focus Features’ Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)
[2] Rob Corddry stars as Warren and Connie Britton stars as Diane in Focus Features’ Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012). Photo credit by Darren Michaels.
[3] Keira Knightley stars as Penny in Focus Features’ Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012). Photo credit by Darren Michaels.

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