In these apocalypse-obsessed times leading up to December 2012, we’ve seen the end of the world as we know it turned into a metaphor for plenty of different social and political ideas. But in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, writer/director Lorene Scafaria finds a hilariously heartbreaking vision of mortality itself.
That heavy thematic foundation shouldn’t scare you away from this surprisingly weird combination of gallows humor and romantic comedy. The “meet-cute” takes place in the weeks following the announcement that the final hope to stop a massive asteroid from hitting the Earth has failed, beginning humanity’s countdown clock to extinction. Dodge (Steve Carell) finds himself alone when his wife flees at the news; his neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), is similarly emerging from a failed relationship. So when Dodge decides to seek out his old high school sweetheart, and Penny hopes to make it home to her family in England before the end, they hit the road together.
Scafaria gets terrific mileage out of a look at impending doom that encompasses every possible reaction. While some people riot and some turn survivalist, others—like the employees of a Chili’s-style restaurant who turn their workplace into a nonstop rave—find an excuse for consequence-free hedonism. And nearly every situation Scafaria comes up with feels completely plausible, and full of unexpected laughs.
But she’s also telling a story of the moment when regret catches up with the time left in your life. The road-trip setup may be familiar—the premise is ultimately a funky melding of The Sure Thing and Melancholia—yet it works wonderfully thanks to Carell’s wounded performance. While Knightley isn’t as effective playing a variation on the manic pixie dream girl, she doesn’t have to be perfect. The beauty here is a tale of realizing that it’s never too late to do the things that give meaning to our brief, fragile existence.
SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD
Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Martin Sheen