In the summer of 2012, the unlikely pair of Steve Carell and Keira Knightley star in what may be described as the sweetest, non-destructive disaster film of all time. It wasn’t a film that belonged in the summer, but I suppose that Focus Features believed that — with Steve Carell near the height of his career — that the movie could steal some box-office money away from the blockbusters, like Carell’s Little Miss Sunshine had in 2006.
It didn’t work. Seeking a Friend earned less than $10 million at the box office, and quickly disappeared. I’m not entirely sure, why. Maybe it was the subject material — it’s about the romantic pairing of two unlikely people in the weeks preceding the world’s destruction by an asteroid. Or maybe some were put off by the pairing of Carell and Knightley. Or maybe it just wasn’t marketed well, although it’s not easy to sell a film with an indie sensibility that also sees the destruction of the planet.
Three years later, however, it’s arrived on Netflix, and though it’s harder these days to convince people to visit older movies — because there’s so many new and shiny movies and television shows to watch now — Seeking a Friend for the End of the World feels almost perfect for a late August viewing. It’s a low-key film, warm-hearted, sweet but not too heavy-handed, and cozy enough to curl up with on your iPad in bed on a late summer night.
Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut almost feels like cinematic equivalent of Steve Carell’s eyes: Sweet, soulful, and sleepy, a basset hound of a movie. 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.
A movie that hugs you back feels completely in order right about now.
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.
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.
I know what I’d want, if the lights were about to go out on humanity, and Seeking a Friend offers the perfect vehicle for your very thoughts to wonder about that question.