Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a film that just about works. The emphasis here is on ‘just about’, however. Although charming and possessing some touching performances, it doesn’t hold together well enough and is too predictable to make it all that memorable. It might have been better named Seeking a Surprise for the End of my Film.
We open 21 days from the apocalypse. A 70-mile-wide asteroid is headed for Earth and our last hope, a shuttle en-route to destroy it, has failed. Dodge (Steve Carell) finds his wife leaving him immediately and it seems as if he is doomed to live out his remaining weeks alone and spiritually unfulfilled. However, he finds an unlikely companion in Englishwoman Penny (Keira Knightley), and they set out to reunite her with her transatlantic family and him with his high school sweetheart before the end of days.
Director and writer Lorene Scafaria is behind the camera for the first time after adapting the screenplay for low-key teenage rom-com Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist from a novel. Featuring a charming pair of leads (in that case Kat Dennings and Michael Cera), Scafaria has obviously attempted to translate the tone and feel of that feature to one with a slightly edgier concept and adult leads. At times this simply doesn’t fit well enough Knightley and Carell. Where it lent Nick & Norah an endearingly naïve charm to their high-schoolers, it simply makes the older couple feel slightly twee – the cinematic equivalent of middle-aged parents doing a very earnest reading of a teenage romance novel. The slightly clumsy use of music to mark emotional cues also feels a little forced, especially when the two actors are perfectly capable of doing so without aid.
The film does some things very well – the crushing banality of Dodge’s life as riots and looting break out around him makes for a darkly amusing contrast. The ridiculous hedonism his middle-class friends engage in is presented well – a mild satire of their repressed desires and inclination to capital vices released as Armageddon approaches.
Although Carell is actually a talented actor with admirable range, and Knightley does a decent job as the dreamy free-spirit archetype, there doesn’t appear to be much chemistry between the pair at first glance. In the end this doesn’t overly matter. Knightley does a decent job with a not-very-well-written part, and Carell is always good to watch as a lovable loser (feeling like a companion piece to his turn in Crazy, Stupid, Love).
It feels like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World needed another draft on the script; or perhaps a stronger director that could perhaps craft something more memorable than a slightly limp Melancholia for the rom-com set. Although endearing at points, this is an idea that has been done before, and better, despite the leads’ best efforts. In the end, you don’t quite have the heart to dislike it – but it’s very far from a movie you’d choose to watch if you had two hours to spare before bed, let alone the end of the world.