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4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
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by Brett Gallman

"Melancholia without the melancholy."
4 stars

We’ve had apocalyptic films of all shapes and sizes over the years--big ones, loud ones, mostly crappy ones; Roland Emmerich alone has assaulted us with an extraterrestrial one, a cold one, and even a Mayan-prophesized one. Thanks to Lorene Scafaria, we now have a small, quiet, and sweet one in “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”

The film begins by undercutting the route that so many of these things take: a crew has taken off into space, but their vessel has gone up in flames, thus ending mankind’s hope of destroying an asteroid that will collide with Earth in three weeks. As Dodge Petersen (Steve Carell) hears this reported over the radio, he suffers a more personal setback when his wife leaves him. He spends the next week or so trudging through life along with his co-workers and friends; one night, he finally meets Penny (Keira Knightley), the girl who’s been living below him for the past three years. The two bond over their mutual regrets--he let a girl get away, she never spent enough time with her family--and vow to get each other to their respective destinations before the end of the world.

“Seeking a Friend” does take a while to find its groove and work through its various tones and modes; for the first twenty minutes or so, it’s an off-kilter, heightened comedy that turns the apocalypse into a farce. Some people still show up for work, while some engage in hedonistic exploits like drugs and orgies. While the film largely avoids what we might expect the end-times to look like (read: mass hysteria), something about it feels just right even if Scafaria is essentially taking the piss out of the whole thing. I’m guessing a large number of people would pretty much act like students whose teacher just left the room and won't be returning. Likewise, some of the asides that poke at the absurdity of our current media-addled culture are quite perceptive and satirical.

As such, the film has a tendency to be episodic as Dodge and Penny bomb from place to place. Their encounters amount to various sketches that are being put on by a talented supporting cast. One of today’s most underutilized crass talents, Rob Corddry, is unleashed in an early scene, while Patton Oswalt shows up as the guy who encourages Dodge that the apocalypse has “leveled the playing field” when it comes to the opposite sex. William Petersen’s episode as a trucker turns expectations on its head and pays off with a gag that dares you to laugh. Two emerging talents in Gillian Jacobs and T.J. Miller are outrageous and memorable in their brief appearances, and the film moves at a reckless road movie pace that lowers your guard for the impending sweetness.

All this zaniness is what makes the film eventually work, as neither Dodge nor Penny are all that concerned with giving into excess; instead, they sometimes feel like the only two normal human beings in a world gone mad, perhaps because their concerns are so human. Once “Seeking a Friend” finally settles in and focuses on its blossoming friendship, it becomes endearing. While there are few narrative surprises, there is a surprising amount of depth to the two characters and the central performances that bring them to life.

Carell is an actor that I find serviceable when he’s trying to be overly funny, but I like him more when he’s eased into a nice guy shtick like he is here. He’s a quietly empathetic presence whose desire to reconnect with “the one who got away” is warmly realized; Carell is weary without being a cartoonishly hopeless sad sack, and he manages to sneak in a few dry zingers of his own. Penny seems to be his direct opposite; whereas Dodge has never taken a risk in his life (an approach that landed him a dull insurance job), Penny is a flighty British wild-child who won’t leave her apartment without her vinyl records.

She’s full of platitudes and has all the answers for everyone but herself, and Knightley is fantastically charismatic in the role. Like Carell, she takes a worn out type and grounds her into a well-rounded character, and the film’s various small moments (such as a phone conversation between Penny and her family) bring a gentle humanity that so many big-budget disaster movies either ungainly wedge in or miss out on completely.

By the end of the film, Scafaria has made an apocalypse film where the apocalypse doesn’t even matter; indeed, even the countdown that keeps track throughout the movie seems to fade away because “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” isn’t concerned with The End. Instead, it’s more worried about the moments leading up to it and revealing the unexpected comfort that can be found in it as long as you set things right.

Scafaria’s film is perhaps slight and predictable (the only surprise is that it doesn’t cop out on its premise), but it’s funny and charming enough to justify its existence. It’s an oddball take on a tired genre, but it’s also a genuine one with a quiet “last one out turn out the lights” bitter-sweetness, and I’ll take that over overwrought disaster porn.

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originally posted: 06/23/12 12:23:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/25/15 brian Funny first act, slow second act, excellent third. Yeah, worth seeing. 4 stars
11/18/12 Edler Lame! Uninteresting characters; no chemistry; Carrell's sadsack is old and boring! 2 stars
7/25/12 wickedwoman25 loved!! but didnt like ending. 4 stars
7/10/12 Andy A very interesting way of spending the last day before the world ends 3 stars
7/01/12 Bill Loved it. You could have heard a needle drop in the theater when the screen went black 4 stars
6/25/12 ivy nelson bored by it, upset by the ending. went on your recommendation (on Nick's show). Sorry I wen 2 stars
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  22-Jun-2012 (R)
  DVD: 23-Oct-2012


  DVD: 23-Oct-2012

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