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Published: 2012-06-21 - 08:18:45
Movies : Reviews

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Review

By Mark Grady

"Seek" and Ye Shall Find

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While its fairly well established that the 'indie' label has become completely meaningless in business terms - we all know that Focus Features is owned by NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast, which is owned by GE, which is owned (as I understand it) by the Shienhardt Wig Co - it's nice to see that this convenient fiction still allows studios to release smart, character-driven movies that don't have to cater to the 12 - 17 year old demographic. "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" won't make millions and millions of dollars, but it will leave an audience that enjoys clever writing, excellent acting, and a moving story, very satisfied.

The premise, the impending end of the world due to asteroid, lends itself to the inevitable scenes of fireballs smashing through major landmarks, but what "Seeking a Friend..." focuses on instead is the smaller destruction that happens to an average Joe when he realizes that the end really is near and that his life so far has been completely devoid of meaning. Enter Dodge (Steve Carrell, "The 40 Year Old Virgin", Crazy, Stupid, Love"), an insurance salesman whose wife, upon hearing that the shuttle sent to destroy the asteroid has failed, promptly runs off, leaving him alone with the sound of inevitability. Desperate to recapture a time when he felt something more than numb, he sets out to find his college sweetheart, the love of his life, accompanied by his seemingly carefree young neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley, "Love Actually").

While it doesn't take an asteroid scientist to foresee that the two will help each other find salvation, the path to it is what makes this movie work so well. The two grow closer as they overcome apocalypse-related obstacles, but it never feels forced and the evolution of their relationship never feels obvious. Amongst this strange world of anarchy screenwriter Lorena Scarafia ("Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist") captures the simple interactions that anyone who has ever been in love recognizes in retrospect as the happy accidents that made the relationship. And like any good relationship, love seems like it was always the natural result.

Of course, there are also plenty of laughs along the way. The differing ways in which various characters react to the end of the world make for great fodder, and the supporting cast delivers in spades. Rob Corddry ("Hot Tub Time Machine") delivers another hysterical performance, as the friend who chooses to stretch the definition of debauchery during his last days, and William Peterson gives a touching, and unnerving, cameo for the brief period where Dodge & Penny cross his path. But the film really soars thanks to Mr. Carrell. It almost seems superfluous at this point his career to discuss his ability to capture the pathos and hopelessness that can attach to modern life, but it's always worth mentioning. Given his mastery of broad comedy (and he delivers some of that here as well), it remains a shock to see him nail small moments with just a tiny frown or a glint of the eye. Indeed, you could say that he's Jim Carrey as he might have been.

Mr. Knightley does nice work as well. Her ability to play the bright-smiling bohemian bit isn't news, but it's a pleasure to watch nevertheless. And not to sell her short, when she is asked to do more than be the sunshine next to his cloud, she is more than up to the task.

Ms. Scafaria, who, in addition to writing, also makes her directorial debut, walks a nice tightrope between gloom and hope, forcing neither and underlining nothing. Allowing her actors to work subtly during the character moments, she leaves the audience to make some of its own conclusions, which is a nice relief. There is no bombastic soundtrack, nor weeping strings, nor camera tricks to telegraph the desired emotional experience, but rather an even pace that feels closer to the reality of normal life. Unfortunately, the decision that she makes at the end, as both a director and writer, feels like a bit of a betrayal, enough so that you wonder if it was foisted upon her by one of the 'indie' execs.

Nevertheless, "Seeking a Friend..." perfectly captures the revelation of finding happiness after years of unrealized misery and doesn't do it in a cheap or lazy way. Who knew that witnessing the end of the world could be so uplifting?

What did you think?

Movie title Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Release year 2012
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Who knew that witnessing the end of the world could be so uplifting?
View all articles by Mark Grady
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