Release: Friday, June 22, 2012
Hey, it only seems appropriate, right? Some of us may be sitting and counting down the days to discovering just how accurate that Mayan calendar is, but some others are going to be just content enough to sit and write reviews of movies dealing with the end.
Another tale of ‘two halves,’ first-time director Lorene Scafaria‘s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is not a letdown, even if you let it bring you down. The first half — hilarious, strangely uplifting, chaotic; the second half — well, there’s just not so much fun to be had. But the second half is where we get the passionate acting and the love. We get the film’s saving grace and the final words ever to be uttered by lovers to one another. And boy, is it tear-jerking.
What makes this film is the particularly romantic chemistry between Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, who play apartment neighbors Dodge and Penny, respectively. Carell is becoming good at this, I tell you. He’s been in romance/dramas before (Dan In Real Life; Little Miss Sunshine) but this time he’s really downplaying the part of the nice guy getting left behind. What a time to be left alone, too, by the way. And Knightley is just as sweet and imperfect as ever as Penny, the one with no true ambitions anymore (since the world is going to end in less than three weeks) but with optimism for a bright future in abundance. Call her weird. Call her crazy. I call her the bright summer sun in a world soon doomed to darkness.
The grim news of a 70-mile-wide asteroid heading straight for Earth streams dismally over the radio in Dodge’s car as he and his wife listen in, panicked by the realization that life as everyone knows it is truly about to end. Naturally, that’s when the wife bails on him. (How cute it is once again for Steve to get his wife in real life, Nancy Carell, to play the part of yet another fleeting lover here. In case that’s vague, she played Carol Stills in The Office, Michael Scott’s real estate agent/concubine.) Dodge is left in a haze of finding no real purpose to his last few days on earth, while seemingly everyone else is living it up, forming drunken orgies in wealthy suburban neighborhoods, doing blow and hooking up with just about anyone in sight. But Dodge just doesn’t feel the same way about his life coming to an end, and that’s when he bumps into his neighbor, and when his life changes for………oh, the next 20 days. When she happens upon his windowsill one evening looking inconsolable, Dodge invites her in to calm down and talk things through. They get to know each other and are fast friends.
Later, in the midst of a riot that breaks out in town, Dodge has finally summoned the courage to rescue his newfound friend from her apartment as he fears they will be killed there if they stay. After tripping over a minor hazard, that is, Penny’s former loser-boyfriend (Adam Brody), they escape and set off on their journeys to find one last chance to say goodbye to and enjoy the end of the world with those who matter most. For Dodge, that’s his high school sweetheart, Olivia. For Penny, that’s a bigger challenge. Being from England, and with flights grounded permanently now, she hopes to get back to her family in time. But the two wind up more entangled than either of them had planned to be.
As the camaraderie between odd-man and odd-woman continues to grow, they make pitstops at certain places so that Penny can be sure that Dodge is definitely going to be able to meet up with his “true lover.” These places range from Penny’s ex-boyfriend Speck (an intimidating fella who’s already got his own survival plan fleshed out in a subterranean bomb shelter); to a random hitchhiking scenario in which their driver ends up killed in what appeared to be an arranged hit man murder-suicide (didn’t see that one coming); to Dodge’s estranged father’s house. While the romance begins to take shape, the film’s tone adjusts from one of comic relief from the brutal realities of armageddon, to one of deep personal sorrow, remorse and nostalgia. At times it swings to the point of making the viewer feel a little bipolar. The film never knows if it wants to be more serious or more funny. It takes equal doses of both, but the humor and seriousness switch off much too frequently.
Although at times it winds up a little confused in the tone, that carries as much weight as someone being “too angry” or “too sad” or “too anything” when news like this hits. How exactly does one or should one react to the end of the world? Who knows? The back-and-forth between comedy and drama almost suits that internal, personal chaos. Worst of all, the ending has been wholly misunderstood by critics nationwide. Written off as a disappointing third act, the last moments with Dodge and Penny are precious. Intensely personal and drawing from emotions all over the map, Scafaria allows her debut film to go out with a bang, so that even when you hear the sound of the asteroid’s impact guaranteeing our species extinction, you somehow feel okay with it.
Recommendation: A great rental. Out of all the films that portray a doomsday scenario on the largest scale, this is the one that I’ve found that really grounds it in reality. If you’re seeking a film that will save you from the end of the world, look no further. Plenty of laughs, fun and romantic appeal. Plus a dog which is named Sorry. How perfect.
Running Time: 101 mins.
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