If you were to hold a gun to my head and demand that I tell you what is my absolute most favorite type of comedy, first of all I’d probably ask “Why are you doing this?!” and ask you why you couldn’t just ask me that question like a normal person, but eventually I’d tell you that it is the marriage of dark and silly. The darker something is and yet the more absurd something is, the more I love it. See The Far Side, see Comedy Central’s Review With Forrest MacNeil. See It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
From the first time I saw the trailer for Lorene Scafaria’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, with the radio station giving their call sign at the end of their news that the apocalypse is definitely coming, and a woman slowly sobbing away during an office meeting while a man cheerfully asks “If anyone wants to be CFO?” I knew that this movie was for me. Almost specifically for me. It skyrocketed to the top of my must-see list for 2012 faster than the asteroid coming to destroy the earth in the film.
Falling at the end of Steve Carell’s unofficial “sad lost guy” comedy trilogy following Dan in Real Life and Crazy, Stupid, Love., before moving into his ‘hey this guy can actually act, let’s consider him for awards’ era, his slightly amused but mostly numb depiction of protagonist Dodge takes familiar territory for him and raises the stakes. Scafaria’s writing and directing complements Carell’s numbness perfectly as she slowly establishes this world, soon to be ending, and surrounds him with people living in complete denial of the abject horror due their way in just under a month. While Dodge is unable to process how he feels, his friends celebrate their demises with drunken sex and excited attempts to try heroin.
It’s very rare for a movie to make a dramatic shift in tone and pull it off successfully, but Seeking a Friend’s shift into a second act, where Dodge survives a half-assed suicide attempt, unwillingly adopts a dog, finds a letter from an ex-girlfriend and flees a rioting city with his neighbor, Keira Knightley’s Penny, in order to head out into the world trying to find the woman who got away, does it. While the movie continues to visit with people preparing for the world to end, Penny’s survivalist friend/ex, an overzealous police officer, a man on the run from a hitman he hired, an entire restaurant of people rolling on ecstasy, the story becomes pretty personal, and actually rather sweet, focusing more and more intently on the connection developing between Dodge and Penny (which does veer a bit on the edge of manic pixie dream girl territory) and on Dodge’s estranged relationship with his father, and of enjoying the simple pleasures of life, like a sunny day on the beach or listening to a favorite record.
To be completely honest, it isn’t the movie I was expecting when I saw that trailer, but I think it’s better for that. The over-the-top, dark absurdist elements are fantastic and pretty much all land perfectly, but had the movie been overstuffed with them, it would have probably quickly grown tiring or predictable. Instead, what Seeking a Friend for the End of the World gives us is what the title itself suggests, people seeking someone to connect with, even in the face of total annihilation. The MacGuffins of Dodge’s ex or the airplane that he promises Penny will fly her to her parents in England are just window dressing for a story about loneliness and companionship, the lack of which can sometimes seem like an end of the world scenario for anyone.