Cinema Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

and yet the dog doth not laugh

Dir/Wri: Lorene Scafaria. PRO: Steve Golan, Joy Gorman, Steven M. Rales, Mark Roybal  DOP: Tim Orr. ED: Zene Baker. DES: Chris L. Spellman. Cast: Keira Knightley, Steve Carell

Apocalyptic or armageddon scenarios have oft been given the cinematic treatment, usually featuring thrilling heroics, last-ditch attempts at survival, and large-scale destruction of famous American landmarks. How your everyday Joe reacts to imminent death and destruction is rarely shown, or maybe only displayed through the traffic tailbacks that result from mindlessly attempting to flee the un-flee-able. There is a token tail-back scene in Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but there is little by way of heroics or destruction. The film takes a look at the individual human cost of trauma and disaster, through two unlikely characters thrown together in a crisis.

An asteroid is on a collision course with earth, all attempts at diverting it having failed. Insurance salesman Dodge Peterson (Steve Carell), battling with regret and disillusionment, reconciles himself to dying alone until he is thrown unsuspectingly into the drama of his young neighbour, Penny (Keira Knightley). With only days left to live, the two embark on a road-trip to find Dodge’s long lost love and, in turn, redemption for a life half-lived. However, there is more in store for them in this short time than either of them realise.

There are common elements between this and Scafaria’s previous screenwriting credit, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Both feature two strangers thrown together who embark upon a journey, music is a central theme, and both have exhaustingly long titles. What is notable is that, while one shows two people trying to get to their favourite band’s gig, and the other is a quest for love before the end of days, both are similar in their depiction of the consequences of random human interactions.

As regards the cast, it could be said that Knightley overplays and Carell underplays. Penny’s kooky, amped-up Britishness drifts from endearing to grating. Carell capably etches Dodge’s emotional vacancy and disillusionment, but this perhaps makes it a struggle to fully engage with his character. This kind of disillusioned white male figure is becoming quite a common trope of American cinema and literature, one which might be getting a bit tired. The kind of polarity in acting and character seen in this film renders the relationship that springs up between them a little difficult to buy.

In spite of this, the film is overall quite an enjoyable piece. The extent to which the narrative tone drifts from cynicism and despair to happiness and fulfillment is quite deftly done. It does, however, toe the line between bittersweet and overly sentimental. The idea of self-sacrificing love that could have been its central ethos is turned around for audience fulfilment. At the same time though, the various emotional and psychological processes that facing death incurs are drawn on to good effect, allowing for an engaging piece. Perhaps with a greater depth to the acting this would have been rendered more effectively.

Cathy Butler

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
101 mins
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is released on 13th July 2012

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – Official Website