Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Steve Carell and Keira Knightley go on a journey of self-discovery before the world ends in Lorene Scarfaria’s directorial debut.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World marks writer, actor and musician Lorene Scarfaria’s directorial debut. This melancholic journey of self-discovery amid the impending doom of an unstoppable asteroid heading for earth is a strangely delightful mix of light-hearted micro-adventure and pathos, romantic comedy and apocalyptic disaster. Scarfaria’s film interestingly balances an inherently downbeat concept with a celebration of the smaller things in life; the things we discover mean the most to us when suddenly presented with a use-by date.

Steve Carell plays Dodge, a life insurance salesman who finds out, like everyone else in the world, that a seventy-mile-wide asteroid is on a collision course with earth. In less than three weeks all human life will be wiped out. On hearing this news in their car, Dodge can only watch as his wife opens the door of the stationary vehicle and flees. Coming to terms with the end of days in Scarfaria’s world is a sort of bucket list of aspirations, many of these understandably born from a sense of anarchy. Dodge is invited to his friend’s house party where a middle class group of upstanding citizens decide to celebrate their new life-without-consequence through heroin-fuelled debauchery. Dodge, however, cannot bring himself out of a deepening depression – the promise of free sex, drugs and rock n roll having little impact on his physical and emotional numbness.

That begins to change when free-spirited English girl Penny (Keira Knightley), a neighbour from a nearby apartment, comes into his life. The modern day flower child, her colourful knitwear accessorised with black Converse, discovers she’s missed her last chance to return to her family home in England after all flights are grounded. Dodge comforts the girl after she argues with her boyfriend and she reveals she has a collection of his mail accidentally delivered to her. Within the mail Dodge finds a letter from his first love, a woman he’s always had feelings for, who reveals she still loves him. Penny decides to help Dodge find his first true love while the life insurance salesman promises to help Penny find a pilot and a plane to get her home.

“This melancholic journey of self-discovery amid the impending doom of an unstoppable asteroid heading for earth is a strangely delightful mix of light-hearted micro-adventure and pathos, romantic comedy and apocalyptic disaster.”

The pair set off more in hope than expectation. Scarfaria wisely hints at a version of events following the realisation that apocalypse is not only inevitable, it’s a couple of weeks away. Anarchy ensues but perhaps the writer-director’s belief in our moral code is a little too kind. Aside from a brick through the window and children being encouraged to drink alcohol, it is all relatively civilised (in fact, it’s almost like the apocalypse has arrived and civilisation has transported itself back to the 1970s). However, she’s more concerned with our sense of hope in the face of ultimate disaster and this is genuinely realised, without overt sentimentality, in the relationship between Dodge and Penny.

Carell and Knightley make for a likeable if unlikely pairing. However, it works well in this context, given they have been driven together by extraordinary circumstances. I enjoyed the older man’s sense of retrospective reflection, the idea that he’s reassessing his life’s choices, which acted as a counterpoint to the younger girl’s innocent foresight and the what-could-have-beens. Yet, there’s regret in both their lives, an inevitable consequence of predicting one’s death, and this draws them closer. Beyond the trappings of the world as it plays out under normal circumstances, this couple discover the things that really matter. Their friendship blossoms as their road trip introduces them to an assortment of characters, each looking for the thing that matters most to them. For Scarfaria and her two main characters, it is all about companionship, a little love and laughter, and some great vinyl.

The writer-director’s romanticised view of the apocalypse makes for some wonderful moments, from Knightley’s delightful, pixie-like argument against a speeding ticket to some very tender moments about love and family. However, it can at times be distracting as the tone shifts – one minute we are at a loud, raucous roadside diner, its staff high on mind-altering drugs and encouraging everyone to join them in their orgy, before a quiet, reserved mass baptism playing to the smooth sounds of Dodge’s harmonica and the waves rolling in. Yet, in many ways it adds up to the craziness of the situation and I found myself swept along their journey with the unsettlingly coming together of both longing and dread. It makes the laughter that ensues from the film’s genuinely funny moments disturbingly ironic. Seemingly, no matter what is going on in life – the trials, the tribulations and the apocalypse – sometimes you’ve just got to laugh. After all, laughter is the best medicine.

Seeking a Friend is a confident writing-directing debut for Lorene Scarfaria. As a rose-tinted, romantic view of the end of mankind it is a warm-hearted distraction from the world’s of zombies and post-apocalyptic wastelands. Steve Carell doesn’t have to extend himself here as he’s perfected the nice-guy everyman role so it is left to Keira Knightley to truly excel. And she does. She mixes heartfelt tenderness and youthful innocence with a determined edge and a great vinyl collection. Indeed, Scarfaria’s use of music throughout the film, Penny’s old rock n roll records standing in for the writer-director’s own end of the world play list (from The Walker Brothers’ The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore to The Beach Boys’ Wouldn’t It Be Nice and The Hollies’ The Air That I Breathe), adds to the emotional resonance of the film. Equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking, Seeking a Friend is a unique comedy-drama about finding companionship in extraordinary circumstances.

Review by Daniel Stephens

Directed by: Lorene Scafaria
Written by: Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley
Released: 2012 / Genre: Comedy/Drama / Country: USA / IMDB

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Evan Crean Reply

    After absolutely despising Scafaria’s Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, I was wary going into this film. I was incredibly surprised though by how charming and funny Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is. For me the scene at the TGI Friday’s rip-off restaurant was hilarious and the most memorable. Carell and Knightley don’t have the best chemistry in the world, but their pairing works here. I loved watching humanity go through various stages of acceptance regarding the impending apocalypse: denial, hedonism, anger, and eventually acceptance. This remains one of my favorite films of this year.

  2. Avatar
    The Focused Filmographer Reply

    I liked this one too. it was real…and it was surprising. I actually quite liked how it ended.

    Nice review Dan.

  3. Avatar
    sati Reply

    Gorgeous review! So glad you liked the movie, whileit won’t be on my top 10 of the year or anyting it was very charming and beautiful. I have to say that for me it wasn’t Knightley who exceled here, it was Carell – he created such a lovely, subtle performance.

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