“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the feel-good comedy of the year!” Ah, no. It is an off-kilter romantic comedy that ultimately buries itself in good feelings, which in this case is a shame.
The feature directorial debut of screenwriter Lorene Scafaria (Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) is a sweet-natured flick that offers game performances by some of its supporting cast and enough of Steve Carell and Keira Knightley’s familiar quirky screen personas to please their fans. But what starts out as an intriguing premise gets overly sentimental by the end. It’s not supposed to be this year’s Melancholia, but it shouldn’t finish as a funny-but-apocalyptic variant on The Notebook either.
We get some taste of what we’re in for when we hear the protagonist is named Dodge – nothing like using a name to telegraph the lead character’s personality. But there are definitely possibilities to explore after Carell’s sad-sack is quickly abandoned by his wife when it’s announced that a 70-mile-wide meteor named Matilda is going to take out the planet in about three weeks’ time (interesting tidbit from the production notes – Dodge’s wife is played by Carell’s wife Nancy and their scene together, which was the last one shot, was filmed on the couple’s actual wedding anniversary).
Dodge doesn’t want to be like his hedonistic friends and acquaintances (the ever-funny trio of Rob Corddry, Connie Britton and Patton Oswalt) who figure it’s time to party until they literally drop. He’s hardly happier about what does come into his life during the end of days, though – an abandoned dog he names Sorry (played by an adorable pooch named Aleister) and a thrift-shop-wearing, vinyl-record-playing British-born free spirit named Penny (Knightley).
A riot forces them from their apartment house, so (you guessed it) the pair hit the road. Dodge wants to catch up with Olivia, his supposed true love, while Penny would like to make it back to Dear Old Blighty to see the family one last time.
Scafaria gives us some colorful characters and incidents, including a decidedly fatalistic truck driver (William Petersen) and a supremely confident survivalist (Derek Luke). And there’s a great satirical jab when Dodge and Penny stop along the way at an Ecstasy-fired restaurant – it’s called Friendsy’s, and the servers (led by the delightfully goofy duo of Gillian Jacobs as Katie and T.J. Miller as Darcy the Chipper Host) all wear red-and-white striped shirts. No prizes for guessing the target of that set-up.
Yes, for much of the film humor, irony and satire hold sway, and as usual Carell and Knightley are broadly appealing. We’ve seen them do these character types before, but there’s no denying that both are quite endearing when it comes to playing off-center roles.
That doesn’t change the fact that the picture’s final third is sentimentally soppy, however. Of course, from Dodge’s name to other spoiler elements I won’t disclose, Scafaria’s story has telegraphed what will happen before the final credits roll, so perhaps the soft ending should be expected. It’s true that a calamity can create strange bedfellows, but the way Seeking a Friend for the End of the World ties it up in a neat Hollywood bow left me longing for Lars Von Trier.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (www.seekingafriendmovie.com) opens in Nashville and elsewhere in wide release today (Friday, June 22). Rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence, 101 min. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria. Starring Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Rob Corddry, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Patton Oswalt, Gillian Jacobs, Derek Luke, Melanie Lynskey, T. J. Miller, William Petersen and Mark Moses.
*Photos by Darren Michaels courtesy Focus Features.