Film Review – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Assuming the Mayans had it right and the world is ending this year (and that is entirely based upon whose interpretation you believe), then this is the last year of film we will ever have. It’s been a good one so far, but it has been surprisingly light on disaster movies. Traditionally, disaster stories provide inspiration for action movies, but there does seem to be a growing subset of disaster movies that are comedies. Sadly, they are usually trainwrecks like the spoof Disaster Movie. Thankfully, this year has brought a refreshing spin on the genre, with the first example being Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
The story follows Dodge (Steve Carell), whose wife leaves him upon finding out the world is going to end. Distraught and confused, he continues through the motions of his life without direction. Along the way he befriends his neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), who suffers from a sleep disorder that makes it hard for her to wake up. After their town descends into anarchy, they set out to find Dodge’s first love and find Penny a plane so she can get back to her family in England.
The film is from Lorene Scafaria, who gained some notoriety as the screenwriter of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. This time she takes on writing an original property rather than an adaptation, and it is her directorial debut as well. Her new film does feel like it is from somebody who is still experimenting to find their own style. Structurally, it is very similar to Nick & Norah—the two leads meet, find a connection, and then go on an adventure together searching for a place. The similarities go beyond that, but I’ll leave it there to avoid any spoilers. A majority of the comedy is built upon the quirky cameos from people who intersect with Dodge’s and Penny’s lives. A lot of these feel like cheap laughs that probably won’t have the resonance of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great cameos in the movie, but they should be used to expand upon the story, and not necessarily be driving factors.
Unlike most disaster movies, this isn’t a movie about the disaster itself, but the response of people in advance of an impending disaster. This is a refreshing change from the traditional paradigm, and certainly helped the budget, I’m sure. In theory, removing the need for action scenes should allow the story more time to develop, but it just sort of meanders here. I very much enjoyed the beginning of the movie, as it raises the question of what you would do if you knew the world was going to end. It is fun and thought-provoking to see people varying from continuing their normal routine, to giving in to their id, to just giving up. Even though some of this is over the top, the film does overall provide one of the most relatable examples of what might happen in this kind of situation. I think about what I would do, and I’m not sure.
The film works best when it creates a sense of the impending disaster, giving a countdown of the days remaining. Unfortunately, this ultimately just stops abruptly, and the story kind of transitions into a quirky road film, which isn’t quite as charming. The characters are likeable enough, but the plot doesn’t feel cohesive. Still, you can see what Scafaria was shooting for, and conceptually I think there is a good idea in the somewhat muddled plot.
The story flows the smoothest when it focuses on the friendship between Knightley’s and Carell’s characters. As the story goes beyond that, it starts to become clichéd, and all the elements that made the film engaging in the first place are forgotten. The disaster movie essentially becomes an afterthought…a macguffin. I’ll admit that going into the movie I was skeptical about the casting, but despite their difference in age, Carell and Knightley do make a fairly likeable pair, and their difference in personality (he’s glass-half-empty, she’s glass-half-full) provides the fuel for their adventure.
The film had a nice concept, but never really succeeds as a disaster comedy. If this is a subject that intrigues you as well, for a more successful (and indie) version, check out It’s a Disaster from director Todd Berger. In the end, this was a noble effort from Lorene Scafaria, but one that I don’t think you need to see in the theater…it will be perfectly fine on video.
Final Grade: C+