Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Saw this apocalyptic comedy romance this afternoon, and we enjoyed it, although I wanted to argue with it at times.
Steve Carell does an excellent job playing much the same character he portrayed in Crazy, Stupid, Love (but he does it so well), while Keira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham, those pirate movies) is his wacky, confused, yet adorable neighbor. What sets this apart from any other getting-to-know-each-other odd-couple film is the premise — the world will end in 21 days when a meteor crashes into it.
The two go on a road trip together, after various misadventures. That was my favorite part, seeing the methods people use to cope — or not — with the certain knowledge that the world was going to end. The supporting players are particularly good here, with Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights), Melanie Lynskey (Rose in Two and a Half Men), Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt, T.J. Miller (She’s Out of My League), and Gillian Jacobs (Community) as various folks driven mad in different ways by the coming destruction. You can see some of it in the trailer here, but I actually advise not watching it because the more surprises there are, the more interesting the movie is.
My favorite was Mark Moses (Duck on Mad Men) as the newscaster who’s staying on the job to the end. As the news gets worse and hope fades, he becomes more Cronkite-like in his determination to do his best until the end.
I was surprised at how much Seeking a Friend for the End of the World reminded me of a classic screwball comedy, much in the vein of It Happened One Night. They both even involve trying to get a somewhat lost and wrongly romantically matched young woman back to her family. The only difference is that, where those other movies had an undercurrent of the world being bad (due to the Depression), only we could improve it if we all pulled together, this one shows the world in worse shape, and how much people crave connection yet no longer know how to achieve it. The older films had much more comedy and optimism; this one is a sadder movie underneath, deep down.
Oh, and there’s a bit of High Fidelity in there, too, with the importance given to records and the way the right music captures our feelings.
I was a little blase above about Carell’s portrayal being the same kind of role he’s played before — an insurance agent who’s moving through life without much feeling or emotion, going through the motions — but he’s very good at it, showing much depth through just the right expression or look in his eyes. It’s a position many adults can relate to, where you’ve made what seem to be the correct choices but you wind up in a place where you no longer know what you want any more, until an extreme event pulls you back into yourself.
SPOILERS follow, so if you don’t want to know, stop now.
That’s where I found myself wanting to argue with the film. It’s not that I disagreed with it, but that I would have liked to have talked further about the ending, where these two people find each other, even if only for a short time. I think we’re supposed to believe that they’re really in love and good for each other, but I wasn’t quite convinced. It seemed to me that there was a component of “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” to the conclusion, and I didn’t think that they would work particularly well together if the world wasn’t ending.
There are nods made to them accepting some of the pain points in their lives, mostly involving parents, and better understanding how they came to be who they are, but some of that material reads as a bit superficial. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria previously wrote Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, another film with indie sensibilities and a belief in sudden true love, and it worked better for me there because the leads were so much younger.
Still, it’s nice to think of people having someone to die with when the world is ending, if that’s what they want.