Seeking a Friend for the End of the World gave me pause to consider something new – just how terrible it would be to have a head cold during the apocalypse. Everyone has gone to work with a cold. Working while sick is a universal constant, particularly in this country where time off work is considered on par with stealing or hooking. Misery is amplified by other people. As annoying as they are when you are in good health, when your head is swimming and you can only breathe out of one nostril, people are downright insufferable.
Now imagine those same people with two weeks to live. Their poor qualities are amplified by despair while your longsuffering nature is inhibited by overactive mucus membranes. Such things are nightmares made of. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the type of film that allows us to give these thoughts pause. Beyond that, it is simplistic and predictable, longer than it should be, and it delivers little beyond emotional melodrama and self assured whimsy. It’s enjoyable enough, but doesn’t quite do such a momentous event in human history the justice it deserves.
The last ditch effort to save the world from a deadly asteroid has failed. The world has watched in stunned silence as their only hope exploded in deep space. Dodge Peterson (Steve Carrell) and his wife hear the news from a local classic rock station, pledging a countdown to apocalypse and all the greatest hits of the recent decades. Dodge’s wife handles the news by sprinting as far away from her husband as she can. Dodge deals with the news by being likably morose. The rest of the country responds as good Americans might; they get very drunk, do lots of drugs, have lots of sex, and riot. These things happen in succession around Dodge, who doesn’t participate, because he’s so likable. Enter the preternaturally pretty and effervescent Penny (Keira Knightly), a free spirited young woman who bounces from man to man, avoids her family, and has an eternal optimism in the face of annihilation. The two meet cute of a fire escape, flee the crumbling society, seeking to right a few wrongs one last time. Through their road trip we see how the End Days affects the world around them. There are less religious services than one might think. Clearly, the film is not set below the Mason-Dixon line.
The problem with the film isn’t in the acting, the direction, or the look. The problem is that the subject matter is so heavy and emotional manipulation is too easy. The film attempts to make powerful statements about humanity and connection, but it falls short because it is at its heart a typical Hollywood love story set against the back drop of Armageddon. I don’t think there is such a thing as a light treatment of species extinction. It’s disingenuous to man’s struggle for survival. While I enjoyed Steve Carrell’s performance, and was amused by several of the jokes, in the end it relies too heavily on rudimentary plot points take from other road trip movies. Because of this, it takes too long to get to the inevitable end and doesn’t develop the material with any real depth.
What the film does well, however, is give the audience a chance to think about their own choices given an impending doom. It’s a though experiment. Most people hope to see their love ones or make amends. Some want to see the world or experience true enlightenment. I’m not that difference I suppose. I’d like to do some of those things. But for me, the real solace comes from the moments after impact, in the silence of the grave. If I went looking at Keira Knightly, it might not be so bad either.