Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the cinematic equivalent of freestyling at the club and dropping the mic when the beat drops out. Lorene Scafaria’s debut directorial effort (she previously wrote the charming screen adaptation of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) is a strong, stylish work fully committed to its conceit.
And what is that conceit? Scafaria wanted to write a film about the end of the world where the world actually ends at the end. No final mission to save mankind, no last minute “Look, it’s turning!” moment–just a film about the last days of mankind. It’s a tremendous success.
Dodge (Steve Carell) learns the world will end in three weeks due to a cataclysmic asteroid collision with earth. As soon as the radio story ends, Dodge’s wife flees the car and never comes back home. The world is ending and no one wants to waste their time being with anyone or doing anything they don’t want to except for Dodge. He goes to work, pays his housekeeper, and tries to make the most of the world ending. Then Penny (Keira Knightley) climbs outside of his window on the fire escape and quickly befriends him after years of never talking in their apartment complex.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a very dry comedy. The humor is dark and underplayed at the same time. A party scene sees seemingly reasonable adults cut loose and try out some of the worst illegal drugs available. Riots start just to start riots and restaurant employees hunker down and keep the party going 24/7 because why not? The world is ending. Who cares? Live for once in your life.
Except Penny and Dodge don’t want to live for once. They’ve already spent their entire lives screwing up at every turn and they’re tired of it. They don’t want excess. They want some sense of normalcy. Dodge seeks out the love of his life and Penny tags along because Dodge can get her on a recreational plane straight to England. They’re friends out of convenience, not out of any expectations of anything happening. The world will end in three weeks, so why not go out fighting?
The brilliance of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the refusal to play into the ridiculous antics you would expect when the world will end. Do people get high and do stupid things? Of course. But Dodge and Penny stand their watching people throw their lives away and they choose to take the high road at every juncture.
That, right there, is the core of this film. You know what should happen in this kind of story, especially since it’s a comedy. Yet Lorene Scafaria refuses to take the predictable route. There is nothing typical about the world of this film, so why should the people that inhabit it play to the cliches you would expect of them? They will live their lives however they need to so they can go peacefully when the world ends.
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