Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Funny thing about apocalypse movies– you know how they’re going to end, and it won’t be pretty. They don’t have Bruce Willis jetting out into space to blow up an asteroid. They have names like Last Night and Melancholia.

And they’re depressing. But how couldn’t they be?

From the trailer for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, you’d think we finally have an answer to that. And for a while, it feels like we do. The opening 20 minutes are light on the crying and depression and heavy on the ‘We can do whatever we want, without fear of consequences!’

Never tried heroin? Here’s your chance! Have a crush on your hot cousin? Make your move! Wanna have some fun? Get your kid drunk on martinis!

In the midst of all the hedonistic, free-spirited madness, though, is Dodge (Steve Carell), a mopey insurance adjuster who doesn’t want any part of cutting loose. His wife has just left him, he still goes to work every day, and he can’t break the ‘world is ending’ news to his apartment cleaner, so he lets her keep Windexing every Wednesday.

With three weeks to go until a 70-mile wide asteroid hits the Earth (after one, last Shuttle mission fails) Dodge has resigned himself to live out his days in, well, melancholia. When he finds his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) crying on his fire escape, they share some coulda-woulda stories and then decide (after Dodge discovers a recent letter from his long-lost first love Olivia) to head out on a road trip for one last goodbye– he to the Olivia, she to her family.

Just like that, Seeking a Friend… comes to a screeching halt. And we’re right back where you would expect an apocalyptic movie would be… sadness, pining for lost loves, and endless conversations about the things people will miss.

Judging from how the movie begins (and compared with how it ends), writer and director Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) seems to have created that batch of early scenes solely for the trailer, so people would be enticed by a funny(er) movie– especially since Carell is the star. Don’t be fooled.

Seeking a Friend… could have been great as either (a) an extended version of the light-hearted zaniness we get at the outset or (b) a touching, heartfelt meditation on the end of days. But the almost-schizophrenic approach that Scafaria has chosen just doesn’t work. It’s as if you’re watching a first-rate stand-up comedian bring down the house, only for him to suddenly remember how sad he was when his dog died and launch into a dreary eulogy for poor ol’ Spot.

Carell and Knightley are both perfectly fine in their individual performances, but Scafaria’s decision to put them together, honestly, isn’t. Aside from the fact that they’re more than two decades apart in age (49 vs. 27), they share all the chemistry of two sticks. And the un-believability of their budding romance is not only distracting, it leads to several neck-snapping ‘huh?’ moments the closer we get to Armageddon.

There’s a lot of talent on display here, including glorified cameos by Rob Corddry, Connie Britton, Martin Sheen, and Derek Luke. Unfortunately you might find yourself wishing Scafaria had made any of them instead the focus of the movie, instead… and just let us wave goodbye to Dodge and Penny has they drove off down the road.

2/5 stars