Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Movie Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Directed by: Lorene Scafaria.
Written by: Lorene Scafaria.
Starring: Steve Carell (Dodge), Keira Knightley (Penny), Adam Brody (Owen), Tonita Castro (Elsa), Connie Britton (Diane), Rob Corddry (Warren), Melanie Lynskey (Karen), Patton Oswalt (Roache), William Petersen (Trucker), T.J. Miller (Chipper Host / Darcy), Gillian Jacobs (Waitress / Katie), Bob Stephenson (Officer Wally Johnson), Derek Luke (Speck), Martin Sheen (Frank).

Earlier this year when I reviewed Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day on Earth I talked about how end of the world movies have become standard – and they fall into two categories: The Big Bang, where loads of special effects are used to show the earth being destroyed, and the small indie movie, which concentrates on a small group of people dealing with their last days, hours or moments. Both types have become somewhat clichéd. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed Seeking a Friend for the End of the World so much. It isn’t a great movie by any means, but it is an interesting take on the end of the world – not one full of melancholy and regret, although there is a little of that thrown in – but a rather sweet, unlikely romantic comedy that uses the last three weeks on earth as its backdrop.

Steve Carell, the best everyman in the business, stars as Dodge, a button down, rather dull insurance salesman (whenever the movies need a loser businessman, they are either accountants, or in insurance). The opening scene in the movie has him sitting in his car next to his wife when the news comes over the radio – humanities last hope has failed as the shuttle mission meant to destroy the asteroid set to collide with earth cannot complete their mission. Upon hearing the news, Dodge’s wife, without a word, gets out of the car and runs away – never to be appear again. Dodge doesn’t know what to do with his last few weeks – so he continues to go to work come home and watch TV and essentially walk around in a stupor. That is until he meets his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley), a younger, more free spirited woman who is also going through a break-up. Eventually, these two will hit the road together – Dodge to find his old, high school sweetheart, which he sees as the love of his life, and Penny because Dodge says he knows someone with a plane – who just may be able to fly Penny back to England so she can spend her last moments with her family. You can probably guess what happens along the way – they meet a series of strange, lovable characters along the way, and slowly, quietly, fall in love.

I have made it clear over the years that I am no fan of romantic comedies – for the most part they are boring, predictable, clichéd and worst of all interchangeable – even my wife, who likes the genre, cannot remember which Katherine Heigl movies she has seen and which she hasn’t, since they are all basically the same. Two characters meet, and spend the vast majority of the movie hating each other, until that one scene where the two characters stare into each other’s eyes and realize that they in fact don’t hate each other, but love each other and then they live happily ever after.  But Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is different than most in a number of ways. Yes, in many ways Dodge and Penny are polar opposites, but they never hate each other – they like each other right away, and that like slowly grows into something more over the course of the movie, which seems far more natural than the forced conflict in most romantic comedies. And for that matter, for much of the movie, we are never quite sure what is developing – is it something more innocent than romantic love, something deeper. Is Penny going to be just another woman who Dodge loves, but doesn’t love him back? These questions remain right up until the horribly clichéd, yet still effective ending. As clichéd as it is, it is not a cop out.

The two lead performances help Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is as good as it is. Carell is pretty much the perfect comedic everyman working right now, and it`s nearly impossible not to immediately like his character in every movie – even when playing the obnoxious Michael Scott on The Office, you cannot help but like the guy. If I were Carell, I would be looking to play a role completely opposite – a slime ball, a villain of some sort, just to do something different. But I guess when you`re so good at one type of role, it`s tempting to continue to play it. As for Knightley, she shows a nice, easy going comic style in this movie that I wasn’t sure she had in her. If Dodge is the character we identify with, then we need to fall in love with Penny right along with her – and we do.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is not a great movie – it takes a rather well-worn path from beginning to end, and although there are a few questions along the way, the movie never really surprises us. But the film also has an easygoing, good natured charm about it. It is not a laugh out loud comedy as much as one built off its characters. I prefer those.

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