Going into this film, I was entirely unsure as to what I should expect. Having only seen the trailer, which advertises this film to be a lighthearted indie romcom taking place at the end of the world, I was definitely struck by how dark the film actually ended up being.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World follows two main characters Dodge (Steve Carell), and Penny (Keira Knightley) as they go on an adventure to fulfill their final wishes before the asteroid Matilda collides with the planet Earth. Dodge, whose wife literally ran out on him 30 days before the world ends, searches for his high-school sweetheart to let her know how she really feels, and promises to get Penny back across the pond to her family in Europe, who she hasn’t seen in years.
It starts off at an excruciatingly slow pace, which seems unbearable while it’s happening, but it really gives the audience a chance to understand the heartbreak that Dodge is trying to deal with. We crawl through his day to day in which he does nothing to enjoy himself, going to work, cleaning, and sipping cough medicine, while his friends party and do heroin (because why not, the worlds ending). The pacing within the first 30 minutes of this film is so great, drawing out this morose character’s lack of emotion.
This film could be labeled as a dark comedy, but I feel that it strongly lacks the amount of comedy a film needs to be described as a straight comedy. While being so somber, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World does have some strong comedic moments few and far between and chosen strategically. It’s hard to get through an hour and half of sorrow with no comedy at all, even harder if the comedy isn’t good, or just comes at the wrong time. This film doesn’t have that problem.
You get an almost perfect space between each comedic moment, and those moments are really emphasized by the surrounding emotions. They deserve some full-bellied laughs, but the whole mood of the film isn’t lost in these moments, there is still something in how the characters interact, or how they speak or just the way they present themselves, that allows the audience to still see the fear that they all contain about their impending doom.
As every romantic “comedy,” Seeking a Friend for the End of the World was not able to get away from the curse of predictability sometimes. From the moment the two main characters meet you know what will be happening between them. But writer Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) gets creative and is still able to throw a few screws in wheel and give some unexpected moments, which are a nice way to jump off the predictable train.
Lorene Scafaria (who also directed the film) was able to get some really solid performances out of her actors in this film. Steve Carell was very flat, but that was the character he was portraying. There was seldom a moment when I didn’t believe what was coming from his mouth, he has this sadness under most every smile, and in his eyes throughout.
Keira Knightley gave quite the performance as well, but she plays this awkwardly quirky girl, who was obviously just scared out of her wits and wanting things that seem impossible in her predicament. The main flaw is Knightley’s lack of range: Whenever Penny is experiencing an emotion, we are getting the most extreme point of that emotion, there is no in between — just super sad or ecstatically happy.
The film mostly succeeds, however, and I left the theater with a slight knot in my stomach and a little gray storm cloud invisibly floating above my head.