(USA, 101 min.)
Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Connie Britton, Martin Sheen, Melanie Lynskey, William Peterson.
Ah, the end of the world is such an intriguing premise… circa 1998. Around the time when millennium was approaching, the movies brought out all sorts of memorable films that tapped into the sense that time was nigh. Armageddon probably remains the most popular, but the best 'end of the world movie' remains Don McKellar’s Last Night. (And no, I don’t mean the Keira Knightley one.) Last Night is also the first apocalypse comedy, or at least it’s the first of the millennium-era doomsday films that was intentionally funny. It’s in a similar vein of laughing in the face of destruction that the Steve Carell/Keira Knightley comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World enters the multiplex just when the Mayans are predicting the end of days.
In a way, though, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (hereafter referred to SAFFEW) is basically a retread of Don McKellar’s under-seen Canadian comedy. It is to some degree laudable that a film about the end of the planet advocates the motto “reduce, reuse, recycle.” On the other hand, why bother with SAFFEW aside from the fact that it’s probably easier to find than Last Night?
Both films put at their centre an awkward loner who anticipates that he’ll go out with a bang on his own. Filling the Don McKellar role is Dodge, a typical Steve Carell-ish fortysomething loser. Dodge’s marriage crumbles when he and his wife (played by Carell’s wife-in-real-life Nancy) walks out on him when the radio announces that the last mission to save Earth has failed. It literally means the end of the world for Nancy to stay with Dodge, but now he’s going to die alone. He even posts an advert on a fence in search of a friend for the end of the world; however, as the little phone number chits reveal, virgins are the only hot commodity during Earth's “going out of business” sale.
As the world counts down the twenty-one sleeps until doomsday, some people, like Dodge, carry on with their routine and go to work as if it’s business as usual. Most people, however, quickly zip through their bucket lists and celebrate the end of the world in a drunken hedonistic blitz. Others even take the route of “rape and pillage.” Prompted by Nancy’s abrupt departure, SAFFEW essentially looks at all the trivial social conventions and niceties that people follow simply for the sake of putting on an air of normalcy, and how it literally takes the end of world to reveal the artifice of said conventions. Sounds like Last Night.
Filling the Sandra Oh role of Last Night is the lovely Keira Knightley as Penny. As with the other film, Penny befriends Dodge in the unusual circumstances and they become travel buddies. Penny needs to find a plane so that she can return to her family in the UK and Dodge wants to reconnect with Olivia, his high school sweetheart/the love of his life. They’re also joined by an abandoned pooch that they name Sorry. Sorry is played by Aleister, who seems to know more tricks than Steve Carell does.
Carell is fine in his typical straight-man routine, but it’s Knightley who sells the show. SAFFEW offers a rare comedic/contemporary turn for Miss Knightley outside the period pieces she usually frequents, yet she looks just as much at home zipping across the land in a Smart Car as she does flouncing about with a fan and a corset. Knightley’s work belongs in a better film, especially since it’s really only Penny’s story that forms the emotional core of SAFFEW. This road movie is otherwise too episodic to establish any real connections with other characters (save for Sorry). The pit stops along the journey also range from silly sex-farce to just plain weird and almost every segment carries a sense of déjà vu. It’s not the end of the world, but one finds better laughs in Melancholia.
There are few good jokes scattered about, and SAFFEW is clear in its message that one should not wait for the end of the world to follow one’s heart, but the film is essentially a redux of other apocalypse films. Dodge and Penny don’t go out with a bang to the tune of “Guantanamera,” but SAFFEW does climax with a record player, a kiss, and a big flash of white light. SAFFEW should please Carell/Knightley fans since the two actors make a surprisingly amiable pair, but anyone seeking a good film about the end of the world should simply rent Last Night.
Rating: ★★ (out of ★★★★★)
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is currently playing in theatres everywhere.
Photos credit: Darren Michaels. Courtesy of eOne Films.