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Movie Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Jun 222012
 
 By , June 22, 2012

Seeking a Friend 1

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World — a film review by Gary Chew

What a premise. How enticing. There must be humor in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. My goodness…Steve Carell has the lead. But really…the other part of the story is that an asteroid is zooming head-on into our lovely planet and will surely vaporize everyone in the cast and the rest of humanity in just three weeks’ time.

Seeking a Friend 3

Patton Oswalt and Steve Carell.

Eek!

With everyone knowing they only have about 20 days to live, people in unhappy marriages take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get the hell out of the relationship…on the double.

That’s what happens to Steve Carell’s character, Dodge. At a stop sign, the little wife bails from their car and, without a word, simply runs away after she and Dodge hear an update on the car radio about the asteroid’s swift closure with Earth. It’s really pretty funny … and the look on Carell’s face.

“Pretty funny” runs only a bit longer, because most of Seeking a Friend doesn’t know what to do with its really interesting premise. “Pretty silly” gets going after William Petersen, in character as a man driving a truck, is suddenly killed by a shooter from a big black auto that speeds away.

Trucker, as Petersen is listed in the cast, wanted to be hit on. A contract on oneself, I believe it’s called. But Trucker didn’t want to know when or where he gets to suddenly be dead.

Sort of dumb…or maybe I should go back to “silly.”

Wife-less, Dodge soon decides to seek out the one that got away, long ago. She’s in another town. But Dodge also, inadvertently, just hooked up with a kookie gal who lives in the same building. Penny is newly estranged from her live-in boy friend, as well. Keira Knightley plays Penny kookie.

Seeking a Friend Keira Knightley and Steve Carell

Keira Knightley and Steve Carell in a convivial mood.

The couple had hitched a ride with Trucker some miles before Trucker gets blown away sitting behind the wheel relaxing at a rest stop. Dodge and Penny are unscathed and also get a free vehicle to drive after leaving their city which was in nasty chaos with rowdies in the streets. That brief violence is neither funny nor ironic. And Dodge’s car doesn’t “survive” the melee.

(Yes, debuting director Lorene Scafaria’s film is a road picture. She wrote the script for Seeking a Friend, as well as an earlier film also with strong youth appeal, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Play List.” I liked it.)

Dodge and Penny then happen onto a survivalist/military dude with whom Penny had an earlier fling. His name is Speck. Derek Luke has the role. Speck’s all comfy in a neat bunker with all kinds of goodies, as if that will help. He has other macho buds holed-up with him for the big collision, and just happens, by chance, to have a yard full of those tiny Smart cars seen running our streets today. Speck gives one of them to Dodge and Penny to continue their journey to Dodge’s old girl friend’s house.

This is another clever way to give the pair—who, of course, aren’t going to fall in love with each other—a new set of wheels for the pilgrimage. And, with good gas mileage, too.

A brief scene at a full-bore party bar, that’s surfaced due to the interplanetary meet up, Patton Oswalt (as a man who’s had one too many) engages Carell’s character in amusing conversation.

No reason to give you much more of the storyline, except to say that Steve Carell really doesn’t do much “funny” in this friend-seeking, end-of-the-world scenario. He’s pretty dramatic in the part, and pretty good at it. But I think Carell’s best with low-key, nerdy comedy as seen on…well, you know the TV series he does.

For me, his best work in a feature film, so far, is “Little Miss Sunshine.” In it, Carell first showed his reach: funny, but not quite always funny. “Seeking” has him maintaining himself as quite serious and responsible, even though it looks like he’s living the last days of his young life.

Seeking A Friend 4On first blush, the premise suggested to me that Carell could bring off hitting that tough mark between funny, poignant, sensible, sort of…and somewhat nerdy and unsure. The script didn’t allow for much of that.

Knightley’s Penny is rather “wired” and flighty as one might expect Knightley to do the part. Her energy got a bit enervating for me.

Nothing in the film shows conditions out in space or other scenes where CGI might be employed. Call it an apocalyptic date movie that’s sappy…with an awkward use of genres that make such a script a real challenge to bring off well.

But I do want to say that the ending of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is touching, and its message, which clearly subscribes to the beauty and tenderness of Grace between two loving persons, makes up for, earlier on, not having much ado about planetary cataclysm.

Worlds colliding and cults with their predictable weirdness about end-of-days notions are much in vogue for young demographics motion pictures. Here are a half dozen titles recently released: “Martha, Marcy, Mary, Marlene,” “Melancholia,” “Another Earth,” “Take Shelter,” “Sound of My Voice” and the one at hand, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”

Filmmakers are getting their Armageddon on, it seems, with Mayan calendars and other doomsday scenarios blowing in the wind.

Feels more like a passing breeze to me.

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.
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