Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

© 2012 Ray Wong

The first problem with Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is, well, the title. It's quite a mouthful. The second problem is the premise. "The end of the world"? Talk about depressing. And the third? I'll get to that in a minute.

When Dodge (Steve Carell), like everyone else on Earth, receives the news that the world is going to end in three weeks' time as an asteroid nears the planet, his wife screams and leaves him in a panic. Now lonely and confused, Dodge continues to go to work and resumes his daily routines, trying to feel and act normal. Of course, nothing is normal anymore. He meets his neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), who just broke up with her boyfriend and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Once he realizes that his wife has been cheating on him, and an old girlfriend has written to him, he decides to look for the love of his life. Penny, on the other hand, wants to return to England to be with her family. As all public transportations have ceased to operate, the two strangers decide to take the road trip together (Dodge knows of someone who has a private plane).

Of course, things never go smoothly when you take a road trip, even at the end of the world. Dodge and Penny come across interesting characters and situations, and their experiences help bond them. Will they find what they are looking for before everything ends? Will they find redemption or peace?

Steve Carell (Crazy, Stupid, Love) is best when he plays dorky yet slightly crazy everyman as he did in Crazy, Stupid, Love or The Office. Here, however, he plays it completely straight. The character of Dodge may be complicated, but he is also rather dull. Carell's understated performance doesn't help either. There's just not a whole lot to be excited about the character.

In comparison, Keira Knightley (Never Let Me Go) plays a more interesting character. Penny is anxious, nervous, and rather chatty. She reminds me of Kate Winslet's Clementine in The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind but with less quirkiness and more whining.

The support cast has a better time playing interesting characters. Adam Brody (Damsels in Distress) plays Penny's jerk of a boyfriend quite convincingly. William Petersen (The Contender) is wonderfully zany as the truck driver who picks up Penny and Dodge on the road. T. J. Miller (Our Idiot Brother) has a fun time playing a grooving restaurant host. And Martin Sheen (The Amazing Spider-Man) gives a solid performance as a man of Dodge's past.

While the cast is respectable, the screenplay by writer-director Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) is disappointing. I actually like Scafaria's last screenplay -- she has the knack for capture nuances and young love. With this, however, she opts for an off-kilter concept that doesn't quite work. She tries to offer an alternative, comedic look at the end of the world, but what comes across is something implausibly benign and lackluster. Seriously, with six billion people in the world facing their demises, that's the story Scafaria chooses to tell -- an unlikely love story between two people with huge personality, not to mention age, differences?

Certainly there are some genuine and sweet moments. Scafaria offers some keen observations about humanity and society in general, and asks some interesting questions: "What would you do if you know you, and the rest of mankind, have only a few weeks to live?" What falters for the writer, however, is her answers to that question. As I mentioned before, there are a few major problems with the movie, and one of them is the writing. Dodge is possibly one of the most boring protagonists in recent movie history. He plays the straight man to spunky Penny, but the pair just doesn't seems to fit. There lies another problem -- we simply can't believe that Dodge and Penny can fall in love. Even as an "end of the world" love affair, it doesn't really work for me.

Scafaria also makes the mistake of directing this herself. Don't get me wrong, she's an adequate director. She has the skills. But the movie simply comes off as lazy and dull. The pacing is off. I think Scafaria tries too hard to make a movie for everyone. Is it an end-of-the-world social drama, or is it a romance, or is it a road trip buddy movie, or is it a comedy? She can't seem to be able to decide.

The premise is such an interesting high concept that there is so much potential. Unfortunately the filmmakers have made some bad choices as far as characters and storytelling are concerned. While it's not really the "end of the world" bad, it is also forgettable.

Stars: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Adam Brody, Martin Sheen, T.J. Miller, William Petersen, Mark Moses
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Writer: Lorene Scafaria
Distributor: Focus
MPAA Rating:  R for language, sexual references, some drugs and brief violence
Running Time: 101 minutes 

Script - 5
Performance - 7
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 7
Total - 6.7 out of 10.0 

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