There are two things wrong with the advertiser’s assertion that Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World is the “first comedy about the end of it all”. Reason number one is the plethora of mirth givers that have taken this concept as their starting block from Dr. Strangelove to Red Dwarf and beyond. The second complaint is that Seeking A Friend… isn’t really a comedy. It has a handful of comic moments but ultimately this Steve Carell and Keira Knightley vehicle is a flawed but effective drama about the wonders of humanity much more likely to pull the heartstrings than tickle the funny bone.
Insurance salesman Dodge and his wife Linda listen to a radio announcement explaining how humanity’s last best hope to destroy the asteroid that will annihilate Earth has failed. His wife takes one last look at him and runs as fast as she can. Alone, Dodge reflects on his pitiful life as the apocalypse encroaches. It’s only when his neighbour Penny enters his life that things really begin to look up for Dodge. The problem is he only has a fraction of existence in which to make life count.
The question of ‘how’ you’d spend your and the human race’s final days – in the company of your nearest and dearest or whoring it up good and proper while mainlining heroin into your eyeballs and “listening to Radiohead” – isn’t quite as important for Seeking A Friend… as ‘who’ you’d spend your final days with. And like her previous big screen script (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) writer/director Lorene Scafaria has once again put together a pair of characters and actors you’ll happily watch doing little more than talking about music, memories and missed opportunities.
At the centre of …The World is Steve Carell once again perfectly cast as the downbeat Dodge. As always the anti-David Brent’s face and demeanour make it virtually impossible to not want absolutely everything to go his way for every minute of his remaining seconds. Keira is better than some of her – far too many – character’s quirks suggest. Almost crippled by a wealth of idiosyncrasies that include hypersomnia, forgetfulness and a too twee love of classic vinyl.
The scene in which she waxes lyrical about her affection for the aforementioned 45’s desperately wants to be a clever exploratory reveal of character. The result is sadly nothing like the comparable speech about Miles’ obsession with Pinot in Sideways. Yet the simplicity of a one-sided phone conversation between Penny and her parents is as emotionally devastating as anything in Alexander Payne’s Oscar winning road trip.
When a film is aiming to be fundamentally character driven – Armageddon often feels like background – it’s a crime to be quite so lazy and if Seeking A Friend… has a real let-down it’s here in these generic character traits; The guy who never truly lived sells insurance! The carefree love interest is so laid back she smokes weed! Yet for every fault there’s a fix and the ending more than makes up for any predictability in regard to persona, even fitting in an unexpected twist on the tiresome race to the airport cliché.
It’s as the big END inevitably creeps ever closer that Seeking A Friend… presents it’s finest accomplishment; making you meditate on the best of humanity and just how much it would suck if it was suddenly all taken away. Whether it’s great beasts of accomplishment like The Beatles back catalogue or the Complete Works of Shakespeare or smaller yet equally life-affirming pieces like the dedication in The Little Prince or the first ‘woo’ in the first chorus of Regina Spektor’s ‘Small Town Moon’, in the film’s closing moments even the biggest misanthrope will be reminded of something on this little blue planet that they’d miss absolutely.
For this reviewer it would be far from perfect films with unnecessarily long titles that make him well-up from the cinema’s exit all the way home, reflecting on his perfectly stupid and stupidly perfect little life.
Much better when viewed as ‘a romantic drama with comedic elements’ rather than ‘a comedy with romantic and dramatic elements’, Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World is a pleasing lo-fi alternative to summer blockbuster fatigue. Those who fail to get even a little choked up at the denouement would best question their relationship with life itself.