Seeking a Friend for the End of the World isn't your typical pre-apocalyptic Hollywood thriller. There is no escaping or delaying impending disaster -- the end is coming and there are only two options: continue on with your regular life, or step out of it and enjoy your final days.
Seeking a Friend, the directorial debut of screenwriter Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist), is about a last-chance romance, one final attempt to make a real deal connection to someone in this world before a massive meteor strikes and destroys Earth.
Steve Carell plays Dodge, a sad-sack insurance salesman who continues to go to work and answer phone calls about life insurance despite constant TV news reports about the fast-approaching and unavoidable end of the world. After his wife abandons him for another man -- she literally runs out of the car as fast as humanely possible when they're stopped at a traffic light -- Dodge finds himself alone and depressed and searching for meaning in his life as the world crumbles around him.
Every day becomes Casual Friday at work. Magazines publish "Best of Humanity" final issues. Husbands and wives swap partners and take heroin all night at raging Doomsday parties. Desperate and angry kids riot and set the streets on fire. Because ... why not? Nothing matters when the planet is going to explode in twenty-one days.
In the month between the end of his marriage and the end of the world, Dodge isn't keen on the idea of getting to know a total stranger--until he meets Penny (Keira Knightley), his adorable, scatter-brained neighbor who he finds sobbing on the fire escape outside of his window one night. She's just dumped her loser boyfriend (Adam Brody) and is desperately searching for a way to get home to her family after she missed the last flight ever to England.
Penny soon reveals she's been holding some of Dodge's mail for over a year, unaware that she's been keeping him from a letter from his long-lost true love expressing her regret that they didn't end up together. Desperate not to die alone, Dodge sets out to find his old sweetheart with the help of a virtual stranger after promising her he knew of a way to get her home.
While on the road, Dodge and Penny share painful stories of their old lives and work towards a brighter -- though painfully brief -- future. But it's not that depressing; a series of comedic episodes serve to lighten the mood on their journey. The pair encounters a suicidal truck driver who's hired a hit man to off him before Earth explodes, wander into a weird orgy in a TGI Friday's style restaurant, and hang out in an underground bomb shelter with Penny's gun-crazy ex-boyfriend.
Scafaria's take on the Apocalypse is clever and funny and, at times, poignant. Carell rarely gets the opportunity to play more serious, nuanced characters, which is a shame because Seeking a Friend proves that he's more than capable of taking on that kind of role. In one of her most unglamorous -- but still charming -- roles yet, Knightley plays a lovely counterbalance to the melancholy Dodge. But the Dodge-Penny romance is hardly believable; despite Carrell and Knightley's individual strengths, their characters seem to have very little chemistry.
Even worse, though, is the lazy ending. It's disappointing that such an unusual end-of-the-world story ends up resting on typical rom-com conventions -- the usual (and extremely unsatisfying) "all you need is love" take-away being the biggest offender. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is fairly enjoyable and worth your while if you're a Carell/Knightley fan. But otherwise -- pass.
Seeking for the End of the World premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival. It opens wide across Canada and the U.S. on Friday, June 15.