Writer & Director: Lorene Scafaria
Cast: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, William Petersen, Melanie Lynskey, Adam Brody, Derek Luke, Connie Britton, Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, Gillian Jacobs, T.J. Miller, Amy Schumer, Jim O’Heir, Martin Sheen.
As a society it is safe to say that we are obsessed with the end of the world as we know it. There is a proliferation of books, films, and television shows about the complete destruction of society. From zombies (28 Days Later) to disease (Station Eleven) to even animals who’ve had enough (Zoo), we cannot get enough of our own demise. Especially in the United States we are constantly reminded of all the threats that loom on the horizon, which has resulted in a fragile system that moves forward with extreme trepidation, it’s as if we are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, and politicians and the news are not helping set our minds at ease. Our economy is portrayed as fragile, our government is always one shutdown away from annihilation, Donald Trump could actually realistically become president. Clearly we are all doomed. And so in our entertainment we are exposed to either the destruction of the world on a seemingly never-ending loop. All of the major networks and most of cable right now have at least one series about the decimation of humanity (except ABC, who has two shows about terrorism, so yay, I guess?).
Rarely, though, is the topic approached in a more lighthearted or even comedic way. Zombieland and Rapturepalooza are the two examples that I immediately can recall. I know there are more, but they are in the minority. Although the film is a couple of years old, I have only now gotten around to watching Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. The unfortunately extremely long title and the fact that one of the two co-leads is Keira Knightley (readers of this blog know by now how much I dislike her as an “actress” who only seems to be able to portray open mouthed surprise or scrunchy sad face with tear) detracted me from sitting down and pressing play. I decided to watch the trailer to see if it was remotely appealing to me and found myself pleasantly attracted and even caught myself chuckling, so I gave the film a go. SaFftEotW was actually a whole lot more enjoyable than I ever thought possible, and I was even less annoyed by Knightley than usual.
The film opens with the news that the world is about to be completely destroyed. A giant meteor is about to strike and the last attempt to divert it has failed (think a less successful Armageddon or Deep Impact). Steve Carell plays Dodge, whose wife, at the news of the world ending, leaves him in a gloriously hilarious fashion: she literally sprints away from him as quickly as humanly possible. Dodge has no idea what to do with himself, so he goes to work as usual, interacts with his seemingly oblivious cleaning lady, attends a party at friends’ house. A casual meet-cute with his British free-spirited neighbor Penny (Knightley) sets the movie’s wheels in motion. Penny is a cliche of a manic pixie dream girl whose sole existence in the movie is to give Dodge a reason to find his humanity and inner happiness, in spite of the looming and annihilating presence of the asteroid.
Together the duo goes on a trip turning the film into a road trip comedy and thus provides the opportunity for the duo to encounter a motley group of characters, showcasing the various possible responses to imminent death. From a lonely truck driver with a death wish (Peterson), to a pansexual drug-friendly restaurant scene, to the cliched family reunification and forgiveness scene, the couple makes their way through the apocalypse together, and eventually will discover that they have feelings for each other.
And yet, in spite of the cliches and archetypes, the film also feels quite human and once in a while taps into something deeper and less artificial or superficial. When it doesn’t, the film is still very pleasant and highly watchable. There are extremely funny scenes which had me in stitches and I laughed out loud more than once. Lorene Scafaria created a cute world, and while she didn’t reinvent the wheel, she made this particular wheel run in fun and unexpected ways, which is even more impressive for a first time director. Her next film comes out in a couple of months, and if it’s as good and creative as this one, it will be another great little hidden gem that merits a wider audience.