Armed with the knowledge the world was approaching its end, what would you do? Whilst this question has infiltrated cinema for decades, it has proven particularly popular in the past year, providing the premise of Melancholia, Another Earth and now Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Each is imbued with subdued sensibilities, yet each aspires to uncover universal truths. Like its immersive predecessors, the latter aims to ensconce viewers in an insightful, personal story as it ponders the expiration of human existence.
In writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s helming debut (with scribing Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist the highest profile credit on her brief resume), the encroaching end of days is an established truth. A final effort to divert an oncoming asteroid has failed, leaving the citizens of Earth three weeks away from their doom. Upon hearing the news, Dodge Petersen (Steve Carell, Crazy, Stupid, Love) remains stoic, however his wife Linda (Nancy Carell, his real-life spouse and sometimes bit-player on The Office) flees their middling marriage. Subdued in his reaction, Dodge is committed to his normal routine, as society crumbles around him.
His friends (Friday Night Lights’ Connie Britton and Childrens Hospital’s Rob Corddry) endeavour to set him up with someone new (Melanie Lynskey, Win Win), but Dodge is indifferent to spending his last days with a stranger. Yet, against all expectations he ends up doing just that, when a chance encounter with his flaky neighbour Penny (Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method) sparks an unlikely friendship, a cross-country road trip, and the connection of an all-too-short lifetime.
Accordingly, although informed by its evident apocalyptic setting and ever-present countdown until Armageddon, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World values its subtle yet quirky romantic comedy leanings over any sense of situational drama. Whilst such an approach offers a departure from other recent films on the topic, the decision is amiably apt for the emotive effort, with the tender treatment of its fragile protagonists and their burgeoning bond not only sweet and affectionate, but littered with amusing and astute moments.
Indeed, the combination of clichéd content and climatic scenario shouldn’t work, but invariably it does. Whilst lurching between sorrowful and saccharine, Scafaria’s script is intermittently smart, as is Carell’s endearing latest attempt to play serious instead of silly. Knightley may be the weakest link amongst a cast that includes Adam Brody (Scream 4), Patton Oswalt (Young Adult) and Martin Sheen (The Amazing Spider-Man), however even at her most mannered her performance is far from her worst. With the entire affair confidently captured by the soft lens of cinematographer Tim Orr (The Sitter), the resulting feature proves as eclectic as its predictable yet poignant elements, and as unexpectedly affable.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World was released in Australia on August 23rd.
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Adam Brody, Patton Oswalt, Martin Sheen