Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Written and Directed by Lorene Scafaria
Starring Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Martin Sheen, Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, Derek Luke, TJ Miller
Rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence
Running Time of 101 Minutes
If you are seeking for a movie about the end of the world, there is no shortage. Oftentimes these films are elaborate and expensive disaster films, filled with explosions and action. Other times these films are more dramatic and introspective, such as last year’s excellent Melancholia. What would happen in one of those disaster movies if the people sent to avert the major crisis were not successful? What would happen if Armageddon actually happened in that film? And what if those events were presented starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley? This is the lovely conceit of Lorene Scafaria’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the world, a rare comedic approach to the subject that makes for a potent and extremely affecting film.
Although he is best known as a funnyman, Steve Carell is first and foremost an actor. Even in his most outlandish roles (expect for perhaps his cartoonish yet hilarious work in Anchorman), Carell has the innate ability to tap into the soul of the men he is portraying. In many cases, such as in Seeking a Friend, these are sad men looking for a little something extra to brighten their life. I have always found Carell to be a heartbreaking performer, his facial expressions and eyes overwhelming with yearning and sadness, personified by his stellar turn in Little Miss Sunshine. In some ways his work here is a compliment to that, and it is likely his best work as a leading man. Carell’s Dodge is a droll and unhappy man that slowly evolves to be filled with an extraordinary amount of life, and he has never been more sharply humorous or affecting. Casting Keira Knightley to star opposite Carell is certainly a unique choice, but one that pays off beautifully. Knightley is a phenomenal young actress, filled with warmth and joy. Her character Penny is young and lost, a lover of records and marijuana, and she is the perfect antithesis to Dodge. Knightley is radiant and cathartic in this film. Though unlikely, Carell and Knightley make an oddly endearing pair.
In approaching the notion of the end of the world, writer/director Lorene Scafaria takes an exceedingly clever and subversive approach. With a bit of raunch and great wit, she examines a variety of scenarios in which humanity would be likely to react. The film mostly stays away from religion and violence, and instead it is about humanity. Would you still go to work? Would you riot and loot? Would you do all of the drugs you always wanted to try but never did? Would you search for that long lost sweetheart? These are tangible and fascinating questions that everyone would answer differently. Amazingly, Scafaria presents a fairly comprehensive approach to this subject and covers the gamut of human expression and emotion. With a great supporting cast including Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, Adam Brody, William Peterson, TJ Miller, and Derek Luke, we see humanity in all of its silliness and absurdity. Humans and life are absolutely hilarious, and I think Scafaria knows that better than anyone. There are no answers, no right or wrong way. Everyone will act differently, and this makes for a film that is almost overwhelming in its joie de vivre.
As the film progresses it begins to shift gears, and thus there are a few tonal inconsistencies. For a film that is so grounded in its approach to life, however, this doesn’t really strike me as an issue. As in life, things do become more serious, and as we face our end we must consider our past choices and who we want to spend our last days with. There is no secret from the title that this film is something of a romantic comedy. With potent but unexpected chemistry, it is easy to see why Dodge and Penny would begin to consider each other, particularly with the end of days near. Would these two be right for each other if life were as normal? Perhaps not. But in extenuating circumstances we are forced to consider other options. Regardless, the relationship that develops here is one of great warmth and understanding, and alongside the adorable dog Sorry their trip towards understanding and connection is a beautiful one. It is amazing how with one simple twist of fate the entire course of our life (or, in the case here, what’s left of our life) can change. Every step of the way Scafaria bucks convention, and though there is some broad comedy early on in the film, it also feels like a unique and lovely beast.
In its final act the film is forced to confront the second half of its title. We have “seeked” for a friend, and now the world must end. As the tone progresses, the film is faced with a subtle and melancholy conclusion. Martin Sheen plays a character that regrets much of his life, but is happy to have the opportunity to make up for his poor decisions. If we all looked at life as a little more fleeting, perhaps we wouldn’t make these decisions to begin with. If the world were to actually end in 3 weeks time, I expect as humans we would all try to right some wrongs and be forced to evaluate the decisions we have made in our lives. In putting Penny and Dodge and the many characters that surround them through this journey, Lorene Scafaria has crafted a unique film, filled with life, optimism, thoughtfulness, and humor as only the end of days can have. If life is funny, so too is the end of it. And in the end we are left feeling hit in the gut, with tears streaming down our face. It is the oddest of scenarios, in the adverse of all expectations, and perhaps unique to only me, but this film left me with a stronger emotional reaction than anything else I have yet seen this year.