The apocalypse has never been more hilarious or beautifully tragic than it is in Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.” Her film effectively employs humor to make light of its apocalyptic premise, although it doesn’t treat its subject lightly. The movie, which is an honest tale about regret and love, will have you laughing at the beginning, but by the end you’ll be tearing up.
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” opens with a strangely comedic moment. Dodge (Steve Carell) is sitting in the car with his wife, as a radio announcer confirms that scientists have failed to stop a fatal asteroid careening toward the planet. While the DJ laughably transitions to plugging the station’s countdown tunes until the end of the world, Dodge’s wife bolts from the car never to be seen again.
Poor Dodge is left to experience his remaining three weeks on Earth alone. He tries unsuccessfully to maintain normalcy by clinging to daily routines. His friends even attempt to set him up with a new woman. However, nothing can fill the emotional void left in Dodge’s life except thoughts about his old high school sweetheart Olivia. After a chance encounter with his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley), the two become friends and decide to track down Olivia together. Things become complicated between Dodge and Penny though, when romantic feelings start to develop.
Dodge and Penny encounter some entertaining people on their journey. There’s a man who has hired an assassin to end his life prematurely and a wacky group of employees at Friendsy’s, a Friday’s-like restaurant. In a laugh-out-loud scene at Friendsy’s with “Community” star Gillian Jacobs and the scene-stealing T.J. Miller, booze and drug fueled shenanigans give way to a comical orgy.
An incredibly fascinating part of Scafaria’s film is watching how the human race deals the impending apocalypse. It starts with hedonistic behavior like the kind that Dodge witnesses at a friends’ party. The shindig hosted by Connie Britton and the outrageous Rob Corddry, features hard drugs, fireworks, drunken wrestling, and children chugging alcohol. Following the debauchery, people move onto anger in the form of rioting and looting. Once they get burned out on that, they settle into acceptance so they can spend their final days with loved ones. Some just live in denial the entire time like Dodge’s cleaning woman, who continues her weekly visits despite his attempts to dismiss her.
As characters, Dodge and Penny represent the perfect match because they’re complete opposites. Dodge is the kind of guy who has played it safe all of his life, which leaves him full of regret about all the exciting paths not taken. Penny on the other hand took lots of risks in relationships as what she calls “a serial monogamist,” causing her to lament her reckless behavior. Both actors do great work in their roles, but Carell excels at conveying Dodge’s depression and detachment. He fills Dodge’s statements with profound sadness like “You didn’t ruin my life; I just had a really long head start.” It’s nice to see him slowly come out of his shell with Penny. The actors don’t have the strongest chemistry on screen, though they make it convincing enough.
If you’re looking for something deeper than the average summer fluff, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is definitely worth watching. You’ll laugh plenty, but you’ll also wish these two characters had met earlier in life. You’re still happy they get the brief time together that they do.
My Grade: A-