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By Tony LaScala · June 25, 2012
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a bittersweet rom-com that walks a thin line between humor and humanity, dramatic and dreary. While the idea is high concept (a comedy about the end of the world) the execution tells the story of a soul-searching road trip in the vein of Writer/First time Director Lorene Scafaria’s first screenplay: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
Just as the title suggests, in two weeks an asteroid will strike the earth and consume all of mankind in a fiery maelstrom of extinction. Dodge (Steve Carell) desperately needs someone to share the earth’s demise with after his wife leaves him unexpectedly and all of his friends are committing suicide or trying to cope by partying with fatal amounts of drugs and alcohol. Enter Penny (Kiera Knightly), Dodge’s neighbor who’s also in desperate need of some comfort after missing the last plane home to England. In the midst of a riot Dodge and Penny sneak out of their apartments and head out on the road, each with a mission in mind. Dodge wants to reconnect with his high school sweetheart one more time, and Penny agrees to accompany Dodge after he explains that he knows of someone with a plane. Over the course of the finely crafted tale full of smiles and tears, Dodge and Penny discover that what they were truly looking for was each other.
Theatregoers hoping for a pink bubble sort of rom-com where everything’s all right in the end will be sorrowfully disappointed. This film is not your typical Hollywood fare, because SPOILER ALERT the world does in fact end. There’s no last second military defense intervention, or ironic act of nature, and Bruce Willis definitely doesn’t blow the asteroid to smithereens.
Scafaria has managed to craft a romantic comedy with two key defining characteristics that many Rom-Coms are sadly missing nowadays: Romance and Comedy. My wife is probably the greatest critics of Rom-Coms, as she’s seen umpteen billion of them over the course of the last decade. When we left the theatre neither of us had the typical dreary humdrum responses we usually have to typical popcorn munching rom-com fare. Instead, we were completely engaged. The romance between Dodge (presumably in his late 40’s) and Penny (28) was believable given their circumstances. Yet surprisingly, the script was layered in a way that the shift from road partners to lovers was so subtle that by the end you wondered why they hadn’t been together all along. There’s a particularly sweet moment when both admit that they never would have found happiness with each other if the world weren’t ending. In real world terms, neither of them are the others type.
A wonderful cast of supporting characters (Martin Sheen, Patton Oswalt, Adam Brody, Nancy Carell, Rob Corddry, Melanie Lynskey, and William Petersen) make up the plethora of expertly portrayed eccentrics encountered on the way. Each actor brings to their role, no matter how small, the sense of hysteria attached to pending doom. As a planet they are clinging to their last moments alive and trying desperately to make them count. At the core of this screenplay is a somewhat satirical message we all can grasp: Make the best of it.
Script purists may be upset by the sometime unorthodox format of the story. There are long quiet scenes between Dodge and Penny shared over a meal where neither makes any amazing discoveries or twists in the story. Rather, these scenes show us a glimpse of a relationship forming that will reach its climax in a few short days whether the couple are ready to embrace it or not. It’s both tragic and beautiful, with a few laughs mixed in between.
Like a good glass of wine, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World ebbs and flows and resonates after the very last sip. It’s a film that will become more enjoyable with time, and best shared quietly with someone you love.