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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the Only Apocalyptic Film You'll Ever Want to Hug

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | June 22, 2012 | Comments ()


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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is an unexpectedly thoughtful, and somewhat out-of-place film for the summer movie season. You expect end-of-the-world, apocalyptic films in June, but usually they come from the likes of Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World has the asteroid you'd associate with those blockbusters, but little else. Lorene Scafaria's directorial debut (she also wrote Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) is instead the cinematic equivalent of Steve Carell's eyes: Sweet, soulful, and sleepy, a basset hound of a movie that that whimpers sorrowfully at the moon. It's not a movie you enjoy as much as it's a movie you want to cuddle up in a sleeping bag with and hug.

Steve Carell plays Dodge, a solemn insurance salesman whose wife leaves him in opening scene of the film after a radio announcer reveals that the Earth's last-ditch effort to save itself has failed, leaving humanity three more weeks before an asteroid destroys all of mankind. What do you do when you know you have only three weeks left to live? While everyone else is having orgies, drinking themselves into a stupor, and trying heroin (including the kids), Dodge is aimless and detached. With 21 days left, he has no interest in starting all over or trying to get to know someone in an empty attempt to avoid dying alone. Instead, he longs for his high-school sweetheart, the "one that got away."

Subsequently, he meets Penny (Keira Knightley), his upstairs neighbor, a serial monogamist who has just broken up with her boyfriend (Adam Brody) and decides to spend the rest of her days single. All she wants to do is get back to her family in England, but air travel has ceased, and she has no way of returning. Penny and Dodge strike up an unlikely friendship, and after a riot breaks out in their neighborhood, they flee the scene together with a half-hearted goal of finding Dodge's long-lost girlfriend before the asteroid strikes.

From there, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World morphs into a wistful road-trip movie, one that's less about destinations and dramatic turns than about conversations and shared experiences. Penny -- vibrant, sweet, and adorably effervescent -- and Dodge -- kind, but reserved -- fumble their way toward romantic epiphany, and the fact that the two are such an unlikely pair is kind of the point. At the end of the world, it's less about sexual chemistry and attraction and more about simple connection.

Even still, it's a tough sell pairing Steve Carell and Keira Knightley who feel more like a father-daughter pair, but fortunately, it's not a dealbreaker for the film. In fact, it's almost irrelevant. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is not a love story. It's a meditation on life and on what it is we value. Do we cling to our routines even as we realize the pointlessness of it all, if only because it's those routines that we value? Do we throw caution to the wind, let our Ids run wild, and soak up as much hedonistic experience as possible before we expire? Or do we seek out comfort, someone with whom we can connect and bond as the lights dim on the survival of mankind?

Those are the themes with which Scafaria plays. Many of her ideas are only half formed and fail to cohere, while others spin into oblivion, but the film is an interesting exercise in contemplation. For better or worse, the fact that it often meanders lethargically allows ample time for consideration. Ultimately, however, A Friend for the End of the World succeeds not as summer entertainment, but as a warm-hearted alternative. It's a sleepy, rainy Saturday afternoon kind of film, sweet but not too heavy-handed, and more cozy than it is enjoyable. It's not for everyone, but if your senses feel assaulted by the summer blockbuster mayhem, Seeking a Friend at the End of the World offers a modest way to escape.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Lee

    What I don't get is, why do so many movies have to star men over 40 hooking up with young 20 somethings - I'm so over that cliche' that I probably won't bother to see this. If it was Cate Blanchett or someone similar hooking up with some young stud (or even...*gasp* an age appropriate romance), I might consider it.

  • Whoopsie

    I had a very difficult time trying to dismiss the obvious California scenery trying to con me into believing it was the East Coast. That bitch never fools me, NEVER!!

  • pissant

    MISINTERPRETATION SPOILERS:
    This most likely goes back to Vanilla Sky, but did anyone else think he died near the beginning of the film when he drank Windex? As I understand it, you don't exactly get to drink Windex and then not die. The film was already a bit odd, but things got even stranger when he woke up the next morning. There's a dog sitting next to him and things just sort of start magically falling into place to propel the story. And when the entirely-too-small-of-a-plane-to-ever-make-it-across-the-Atlantic-Ocean takes off everything was a little surreal. But it doesn't appear that was the case. Come to think of it, the movie was a little screwball the whole way through, so I was probably reading a bit too much into it. Anyway, I was watching the film thinking that was a strong possibility the whole time, so it really colored my viewing of it. I think I need to watch it again and try to forget that I ever thought that. It was definitely enjoyable.

  • Ender

    End of the world: Good
    Kiera Knightley: Bad
    The guy from Anchorman: Sometimes good.
    =
    A film: Possibly watchable

  • Joe

    I liked this movie a lot. Keira Knightley was adorable in this.

  • Skyler Durden

    I saw it today and was completely wrecked by it Once the sobbing began, It didn't stop. These characters really touched me. I'm still crying hours later thinking back on it. It has been a long time since a movie affected me so much.

  • PDamian

    I loved this film, and rarity of rarities, I enjoyed Keira Knightley's performance. Steve Carell was also terrific. But I couldn't stop thinking that it was a good thing that they had the end of the world and distant loves to bond around, and how they would have detested each other without that, had they met. It didn't spoil the film for me, but it did lower the enjoyment factor some.

  • googergieger

    I liked Fish Story. I'm trying to think of other almost apocalyptic movies I like. Nopes. None come to mind.

  • Slash

    What kind of heartless bastards won't let you fly overseas to see your family for the last time ever?

  • John G.

    All the flights are cancelled early on.

  • twig

    What pilot (stewardess, air crew, flight control crew, fuel crew, mass transit to and from airport, etc) would spend his remaining time on a trans-atlantic flight?

  • ,

    I was wondering who's manning the gas stations and grocery stores on their "road trip."

  • yocean

    they hitch a lot of rides and gas do go out at some points. And plus there's something i don;t want to spoil.

  • llp

    Exactly - this point was illustrated pretty clearly in Last Night, contrasting between the chaos in the streets and the power company staff calling all the clients.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I think I'll be down for this! Plus, I understand Gillian Jacobs is also in it?

  • Joe

    Yes, she appears in a fairly brief role, maybe 5 minutes of screen time.

  • DarthCorleone

    Nice review.

    I wonder if it's better or worse than the Canadian flick Last Night?

  • Last Night was a fairly cold film--in that slightly disconnected, slightly awkward way canadian films of the period often were. reminiscent of hal hartley films. this film sounds like it will be warm and sentimental

  • Vivianne ValdeMar

    Still, I had't seen that much chemistry between two actors playing romantic interests in a long time. I'm talking about Keira Knightley and Guillaume Canet's characters, not Eva Mendes and human-block-of-wood Sam Worthington. And as Dustin pointed out in the review at the time, anyone who thinks she's not a good actress should watch Miss Knightley's body language in all the scenes. She throws everything she's got into that performance. My two cents.

  • John G.

    This was a cold film too. There is no chemistry and very little happens.

  • drat. i don't think i will be able to resist anyway. i'm a sucker for end of the world stories and contrived magic realism as a substitute for depth in otherwise mundane stories.

  • pajiba

    Overall this is better, but there were a few devastating moments in Last Night that still haunt me.

  • buell

    This should have premiered on December 21, 2012.

  • Irina

    Maybe December 1st, you know, 21 days prior?

  • November 30th would've been 21 days prior, wouldn't it? (Don't hate my math. It's 8 am here.)

  • Devin McMusters

    I had never even heard of this movie until I saw an ad last night, sounds like a nice little treat!

  • Jezzer

    I can't see this, I just can't. I do not cope well with movies that make you care about characters who are facing inescapable death.

  • thaneofmemphis

    Every character in every movie you have ever seen dies. Eventually. Just saying.

  • Jezzer

    CLEARLY I was living in a candy-coated dreamland of denial. Thank God you came along in time to rescue me from my own naivete. Just saying.

  • Of course no-one dies at the end. The asteroid ricochets off all those greenhouse gases we've been storing up for just such a threat...

  • Clitty Magoo

    I couldn't finish the book "Dream Boogie" a Sam Cooke biography. I loved him more with every page, and knew the end would crush me.

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