Originally Reviewed – 6/27/2012
It seems like only yesterday when I was sitting back in my cozy apartment, penning a review of Armageddon, thinking back to every time the world went kablooie. When writing that piece, I felt compelled to look back on all the occasions the world bit the big one on the silver screen. Immediately, films like 2012, The Day After Tomorrow and even oldies like the Towering Inferno sprang to mind. Floods, disease, famine and chaos usually rule these harbingers of our ultimate end, often with loud CGI explosions and disposable human characters. So when I first saw the trailer for this quirky dark comedy about the end of days, I took notice. Maybe the writer of the adorable Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist had something new to say regarding the inevitability of our destruction. The truth of the matter is far less interesting than the trailer suggests, but despite all of the pitfalls and issues the movie brings to the table, it still pulls out a victory in the end.
The story revolves around Dodge (Steve Carrell), a fourty-something insurance salesman who putters around his everyday life in the midst of a worldwide tragedy. An asteroid is set to collide with the Earth in three weeks, signaling the end of the world as we know it. Where’s Bruce Willis and R.E.M. when you need them? After dealing emotionally with his impending end, Dodge, along with his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley), embarks on a journey to reunite with the love of his life. One of the film’s main strengths is in the honesty and accuracy in which it paints the final inhabitants of Earth. Everyone reacts differently. Some people party the weeks away, some commit suicide and others prepare underground bunkers. The breadth of human reaction here is poignant and interesting, painted like small short stories in the midst of the main narrative.
Unfortunately for us, we spend fleeting moments with these people in favor of the film’s downtrodden protagonist. The film takes great pains to paint Dodge as a sympathetic everyman and while he’s earnest enough, he doesn’t do much. Despite this, Carrell does a respectable job in the lead role. Funny in spurts and strangely likable, Carrell carries the film when the script and direction fall flat. Knightley, in the role of the quirky Penny, starts off grating but grows into her character as the film progresses, culminating in a few touching moments in the movie’s third act. The only problem with the pairing is the pairing itself. As a romantic couple, Carrell and Knightley never quite click. They are likable enough and good for a few laughs, but they never fully connect.
In fact, most of the film doesn’t connect until that aforementioned third act. As Dodge and Penny roll towards their destination, they come across a wide variety of heavily scripted situations. These scenes, such as a wild time in a TGI Fridays style restaurant and a humorous run in with a by the book cops, all work on their own but never connect as a cohesive narrative. What makes matters worse is how obviously pointed the script is. Aside from a few surprises, I found myself mouthing lines before they were spoken and seeing the shocking bits minutes in advance. The result is a tightly structured film that still manages to bounce along its straight line plot.
Now you may be saying to yourself, “Wow. He really didn’t like this movie. What’s with the 70%?” Despite the lack of connection with the leads, the obvious nature of the screenplay and humor that works 50% of the time, I got hooked. By the time the final third of the film rolls through, I was inexplicitly invested in the characters and the strange turn of events the Dodge and Penny find themselves in. Sure, I was reciting the lines as they said them and yeah, the film ends in a predictable fashion, but I was touched. Somehow, someway, the film wormed its way into my craggy heart and found a home. That, in itself, is a remarkable feat. Enjoyable and engaging in spite of itself, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World may not be the best film I’ll see all year but thanks to the raw talents of Carrell and Knightley, the movie stands up as a emotionally strong and brutally honest dramadey. CGI and Bruce Willis are fine and all, but I ended up enjoying this quiet interpretation of the end of all things.
Score – 70%