Yep, the end of the world again. Only this time it’s cuddly.
I don’t know if we should blame the economy or the death of projected film, but a lot of filmmakers seem to be awfully obsessed with the apocalypse at the moment. The recent spate of onscreen armageddon kicked off with Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, but since then we’ve also endured Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter and Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day on Earth. Now we’ve even got a chintzy romantic comedy about the end of days.
Lorene Scafaria’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World borrows its title from a Chris Cornell lyric from a solo album every Soundgarden fan bought and listened to exactly once. It also borrows (some might even say steals) a screenplay from Don McKellar’s Last Night, a 1998 Canadian indie focusing on an unlikely love story taking place amid the chaos of a planet hours away from destruction. I looked in vain to find McKellar’s name somewhere in the credits here, as Scafaria lifts entire scenes and plotlines from his picture, but there doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgment. I can only hope he received an envelope full of cash for his trouble.
Steve Carell stars as Dodge, who, like all his roles nowadays, is a downtrodden man who’s wasted his life in middle-class purgatory. A gifted clown, Carell’s too often called upon to be forlorn, what with those giant eyes and a vaguely haunted air about him. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World kicks off with Dodge listening to a radio broadcast announcing that NASA’s efforts to destroy a 70-mile-long asteroid on a collision course with Earth have failed (I guess Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck didn’t come through this time), and that we’re all going to be extinct in a matter of weeks. Hearing the news, Dodge’s wife promptly leaves him. Talk about a shit day.
So it goes. The end is nigh, but our hero still attempts to sell insurance for a living, scoring queasy laughs off a cleaning lady who doesn’t speak much English and obviously didn’t get the news. There are riots in the streets, but the movie doesn’t have enough of a budget to show them.
There’s also a party attended by a gaggle of folks played mainly by L.A. stand-ups, who get down in an atmosphere suddenly devoid of consequence. Rob Corddry and Connie Britton make brief appearances, each hinting at the possibilities of a more interesting film as their marriage disintegrates under the duress of impending doom. There are a few scene-stealing one-liners from the great Patton Oswalt, explaining how women no longer worry about STDs, pregnancy, or even if you’re related. His character is also psyched to try heroin because it was always on his bucket list.
But Dodge sits out the party, moping in the bathtub. Sadly, the movie sticks with him and foists an encounter with Keira Knightley’s flighty British transplant. Her Penny is a girl who wears black nail polish and listens to vinyl, which becomes pretty much the sum total of her characterization. She’s erratic, sleeps for days and is the kind of screenwriter’s device who exists to shake up the world of buttoned-down protagonists like Dodge.
Scafaria is trying something interesting here by positioning stock formula beats in a pre-apocalyptic landscape. There’s something almost quaint about the film’s devotion to musical montages and predictable revelations in the midst of such chaos. But the scope narrows as the film goes along. Perhaps for budgetary reasons, the supporting players melt away, and we’re stuck with an increasingly claustrophobic road trip with Carell and Knightley. By the one-hour mark, it’s just another opposites-attract rom-com, and Scafaria delves into some fairly absurd machinations to keep these two apart before the climactic scene when they’re finally allowed to get together.
So many questions are better left unasked, particularly regarding [surprise cameo redacted], who somehow is able to fly a single-engine propeller plane from the U.S. to England, all for the sake of a plot point. (I want to see an alternate cut of them running out of fuel and plummeting into the ocean.)
Huge portions of Seeking a Friend’s third act are devoted to Dodge sitting around his apartment alone, listening to records. There’s an entire world out there that’s just about to be destroyed, and this movie zooms in on the two least interesting people in it.
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Rob Corddry, Connie Britton, Patton Oswalt
The rather distractingly gorgeous 34-year-old writer/director toiled on a metric ton of unproduced screenplays before her woefully under-seen 2008 adaptation of Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist finally made it to theaters, and since then has mostly been in headlines having little to do with her work.