Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Stars: Steve Carell, Kiera Knightley, Rob Corddry, Connie Britton, Derek Luke, William Petersen, Patton Oswalt, Adam Brody, Martin Sheen, Melanie Lymskey, Nancy Carell.
Matilda, a massive 70-mile long asteroid is heading on a collision course with the earth. All attempts to divert or destroy it have failed, and mankind has only 21 days left. No, this is not Lars Von Trier’s bleak and depressing Melancholia, or any other end of the world drama driven by CGI special effects and desperate heroics. Rather this is the apocalypse wrapped up in the trappings of a melancholic, cynical romantic comedy – Melancholia with heart and humour as it were.
The film stars Steve Carell (this is the second film featuring the comic to hit our screens this week) as Dodge, a mild-mannered insurance salesman, whose wife leaves him for another man following the news of the imminent destruction of the planet. He falls into a deep funk until he connects with his upbeat and flighty neighbour Penny (Kiera Knightley, cast against type). The pair makes a connection amidst the despair, chaos and desperation around them.
This odd couple embarks on a cross-country journey. Dodge is looking for his former high school flame, while Penny is anxious to return to England to visit her parents. All flights have been grounded, but Dodge knows someone who has a private plane. Penny carries her prized collection of vinyl records.
Along the way they encounter a number of quirky people who face the end of the world in different ways. His best friends (Connie Britton and Rob Corddry) throw endless parties, and even encourage their children to partake of martinis. William Petersen (from CSI, etc) is a dying truck driver who has hired a hitman to put him out of his misery, and he briefly mistakes Dodge and Penny for his killer. Derek Luke is a survivalist who has somewhat optimistically built a well-stocked bunker.
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World is a bittersweet tale of friendship, family, forgiveness, and finding those last chances for happiness. There have been numerous other movies that have dealt similarly with the end of the world in human terms, such as the recent Another Earth and 1998’s Last Night, etc, and although it invites some superficial comparisons, this film is neither as funny nor as moving as you might expect.
This low-key mix of comedy and drama has been written by Lorene Scafaria (the independent romantic comedy Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist), who also makes her directorial debut here. Scafaria suffuses the material with a mix of melancholy, regret and intimate moments but unfortunately, her direction is a little uneven and pedestrian. She gives the material a meandering feel and an episodic structure that fails to fully satisfy. The film is also visually bland, despite the solid work of cinematographer Tim Orr.
Carell and Knightley make for a mismatched couple, but unfortunately there is little sparkling chemistry between the pair, even though they share a number of intimate non-sexual moments. Carell is perfectly suited to his role here and his nuanced performance conveys a sadness and weariness. His role as the emotionally vulnerable, wounded sad sack here has more in common with roles in films like Dan In Real Life rather than his more energetic comedies.
The solid supporting cast includes Adam Brody, Patton Oswalt, an underused Melanie Lynskey, and Martin Sheen, who contributes a small but touching performance as Dodge’s estranged father. And in a nicely ironic piece of casting, Carell’s real life wife Nancy plays his ex-wife here.
Given the premise there is no happy ending to this downbeat tale, but there are a few nice little diversions along the way. As REM once sang: “It is the end of the world, but I feel fine.”