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Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

Directed by: Lorene Scafaria

Premise: As an asteroid heads on a fatal collision with earth, a middle aged man (Steve Carell) and his neighbor (Keira Knightley) go on a road trip.

What Works: In recent years, Hollywood studios have produced movies about apocalypse such as 2012 and Knowing or have imagined global cataclysms in pictures like The Day After Tomorrow and Contagion. Most of these films were done as spectacles, based on the disaster pictures of the 1970s like Earthquake and The Towering Inferno; they featured large casts with actors of A and B-list stature and were primarily special effects driven. These films were also generally optimistic, sparing the recognizable actors and concluding with happy resolutions. There is another subset of apocalypse films that are not so flashy; pictures like Last Night and Children of Men generally avoid large scale set pieces to focus on the personal and philosophical implications of the end of days or on what happens after the apocalypse. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World fits into this latter category and it is a personal story about two people finding each other and making a connection. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, all love stories are a race against the end of life. Everyone is going to die at some point and so every person’s search for love is a race against the clock. Cinematic love stories highlight that limitation by confining the search for love to the length of a feature film and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World heightens it still by literalizing the viewer’s understanding that in movies there is no tomorrow once the end credits start rolling. The story of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is really a midlife crisis movie set against an impending disaster but that combination works for the movie because of the lead actors and the screenplay. It is notable that Steve Carell is considerably older than Keira Knightley, which on the one hand fits into the paradigm of a male midlife crisis story, but it also makes this film yet another romantic pairing of an older actor with a younger actress. However, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World gets away with it in part because of the end-of-the-world scenario but also because the story and the actors make it credible. The characters are realized so that they are in a psychologically compatible place that makes them perfect for each other at this moment. This emphasis on character elevates the movie far beyond most other apocalypse movies. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is further distinguished among disaster films by how funny it is. The movie has an appropriately mordant sense of humor that delivers a steady stream of laughs. It is also a bold movie in that it sticks to its convictions. Most end-of-the-world movies aren’t really that but writer and director Lorene Scafaria does not pull any punches.

What Doesn’t: The story of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a little thin on plot. The emphasis here is on the characters as they are confronted with the end of their lives and try to find some satisfaction. But about a third of the film is a little light on significant plot beats. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is also noticeably low budget. Some of this works for the movie as it defies the look and scope of other apocalypse movies but the suburbs in which a portion of the film takes place look notably peaceful and well maintained despite the fact that earlier in the movie riots are breaking out in the cities.

DVD extras: Commentary track, outtakes, and featurettes.

Bottom Line: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a unique love story with some clever writing and strong performances. As an apocalypse movie it’s not a masterpiece like Melancholia but it isn’t a crass piece of junk like 2012 either. This is a good but off-beat movie that, at the very least, is unique in the contemporary movie marketplace.

Episode: #419 (December 16, 2012)