Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
23Jun/122

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

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

I didn't go into Seeking a Friend for the End of the World expecting anything, and ended up with something I couldn't have predicted in my wildest dreams. A film starring Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley widely released at the height of the summer season is a complete and utter throwback to the works of Cecil B. DeMille.

It has the same three act structure that the epics of that that Biblical provocateur used to espouse-- hedonism in act one, hope in act two, reckoning in act three. More to the point, it even has the Old Testament ending, where God smites without restraint. Of course, I couldn't really blame him when we got there.

Outside of that observation, Seeking doesn't offer a lot for me to look at. Steve Carrell's character, Dodge, is currently leading in the "Most on the Nose Character Name" award for the year. Dodge spent most of the last few years of his life in an apathetic coma, and when news that the last ditch effort to prevent the seven mile wide meteor from hitting the earth has failed, he watches as his wife silently gets out of their car and runs away.

Kiera's cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?

You see, Dodge has spent most of his life avoiding things: no reconciliation with a distant father, refusing to connect with the great love of his life, never finding a job that engaged him, etc. Now he's faced with something he can't avoid: the extinction of humanity.

Since this is a modern 'R' rated comedy, the film first tries its hand at the outrageous, bringing on ringers like Rob Corddry, Connie Britton, Melanie Lynskey and Patton Oswalt to lacerate the end times with some keenly observed black humor. Social mores fly out the window as we get into rampant drug use, drinking with minors and partner swapping. On top of that, the film gets in a few well observed swipes at the media, as we see the cover of "Time" picking the greatest humans who've ever lived, with its top choices being Jesus and Oprah.

But this movie is not a comedy, it's a tragedy, and it quickly abandons amusement as soon as it can muster. The movie grabs Dodge, won't let him commit suicide (not that he doesn't try), and instead sends him on a road trip. This hoary formula seems especially hoary this go around, as he seeks out a long ago love with the companionship of a neighbor, Penny (Knightley), who herself is trying to find a plane to fly to England so she can be with her family for the end. He is also given a dog that he names Sorry, and that's about all the mileage we get out of that.

Dodge and Penny head out of a city ensconced by riots and spend most of the movie in the idyllic countryside-- this is by far the most sun-dappled apocalypse I've seen in a while. They meet various wise and generous people, have short conversations that end with smiles, and generally mill about on their brief trip. The momentum driving us towards Dodge meeting his love and Penny flying away dissipates pretty quickly, and the film's entire last hour turns into a run-of-the-mill slow quirky romance between the two.

Yeah, I don't get that Cocoa Puffs caption either.

Knightley, who can be a sublime actress, is awash in a sea of unamusing tics and a character so flaky that she's difficult to care about. You do have to admire the gall of any film that has a character like Penny prattle on about the beauty of vinyl and then plays us a record player through the beauty of Dolby Digital Surround Sound.

Carrell remains convincingly comatose through act one, but can't portray his shift into becoming a real boy in an entirely natural way. It doesn't help that the shaky path they go on becomes a hum of long, soft monologues where characters explore their own sad, quiet feelings about their pasts, which puts this into Tree of Life territory without the visuals or drive.

My biggest issue with the film comes with rookie Director Lorene Scafaria's style, which, by implying that there is a style, is overstating the case. I've discussed about how some film's contain stories, while others embody them; Seeking is a contained story. It has nice touches, but it's never the film about what it's showing, and never strives to do anything more than tell a tragic romance where we know the ending. I saw more stylish and mood appropriate directing last week in That's My Boy.

Harmonicas. Not as quirky as Cocoa Puffs.

Maybe this movie is just too nice for me. It's competently made, and I think I would have been happy if it had either played itself as a straight drama or comedy. Instead we get a kind of half-Apatow wreck, a bundle of drippy monologues, and a lot of moments of tenderness that, admittedly, felt earned but never necessary.

I think if you know that you're in for a a self important treatise on the end of the world and the beauty of human love, you might not feel cheated. I expected nothing going in and got nothing worthwhile out of it.

Posted by Danny

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  1. Definitely a very uneven flick, but I think Carell and Knightley’s performances really kept me involved even when the film did get really serious. Almost a bit too serious, but then again, how else are you going to approach the idea of the apocalypse. Good review Danny.

    • Yeah, it was kind of a mess tonally, which drove me nuts. Especially when you have something from a decade ago like Last Night, which did the same thing with a lot more subtle honesty and without the reckless tonal shifts. Oh well. Thanks for reading, Dan!


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