It’s the end of the world as we know it, but will we be fine?
Gently amusing and fitfully affecting, apocalyptic dramedy Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World is a rather chipper way to look at the end of days. With strong leads in Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut is far from flawless but its optimistic tone is hard not to love, even for the most hardened cynic. Ultimately its main flaw is that for all its offbeat leanings, it’s all too predictable come the climax – and not just because of the titular spoiler. For a film which revels in its eccentricities, everything wraps up too conventionally, made worse by the fact that just scenes before, it all looks like ending in an entirely different, yet fittingly bittersweet, way.
This is not enough to fully dislodge a film that is entirely watchable throughout, however, with the central pairing of Carell’s straight-laced Dodge and Knightley’s free spirited Penny proving a delightful pairing to spend the apocalypse with. After a riot throws them together, the duo set off on a road trip to find Dodge’s first love and while this results in a somewhat episodic structure, the various vignettes with cameos from the likes of Rob Corddry and T.J. Miller all hit the mark, allowing Carell and Knightley their moments to shine. One of the film’s strongest emotional hits comes as Penny speaks to her family back in England, Knightley drawing back her character’s tics to powerful effect; while Carell peddles the everyman act he honed on Crazy, Stupid, Love. and provides most of the subtle humour from his exasperated responses to peoples’ reaction to the apocalypse. It’s to their credit that while everything feels too low-key to fully hit home, all it takes is one heart-wrenching whispered line from Dodge to Penny near the climax to realise just how invested you have become in the characters.
But it’s not all doom and gloom as Scafaria litters her script with wonderful moments of gallows humour to mix in with the effective moments of poignancy. Highlights include an encounter with a Christian trucker who decides to hire a hitman instead of taking his own life, and a ‘The End Is Near’ naysayer who Dodge muses is sleeping easy as he’s been vindicated. It never veers into all-out comedy mode though, with its third act more focussed on delivering morals that while not original, avoid schmaltz as a result of Scafaria’s handling, favouring sharply observed character beats over bombast. And for anyone who’s seen Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist – which Scafaria scripted – it’ll come as little surprise that Seeking a Friend… has a lovely soundtrack, well-judged to amplify the film’s emotions.
It won’t be life-changing, but Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World delivers exactly what it sets out to achieve: a heartfelt, funny take on the end of humanity as we know it. Knightley is often the acting equivalent of marmite, yet here she provides able support to Carell and the two share a believable chemistry, which makes this about as upbeat as an apocalypse movie can get. A less conventional ending would have seen it end with a memorable bang, rather than the whimper it leaves us with, although Scafaria ensures that the film has done more than enough along the way to make it worth the ride.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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