Three weeks before a giant asteroid is scheduled to collide with earth, killing everyone on the planet, Dodge (Steve Carell) finds himself suddenly single wondering if you can find meaning in a world that soon won’t exist. When a riot breaks out on his Manhattan street he and his flaky downstairs neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) escape the mayhem and head out of town, toward their destiny. He wants to reconnect with his high school sweet heart, she wants to fly home to England to see her family.
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is a keenly observed—if somewhat speculative—look at what might happen when the end is near… or here. The movie begins with a darkly comedic take on civilization’s last moments. “Nobody is anyone’s anything anymore,” says the despondent wife of Dodge’s best friend. The looming apocalypse has leveled the playing field, giving usually staid insurance salespersons in Dodge’s life permission to behave how they’ve always wanted—sleeping around, doing heroin and generally letting their hair down.
It’s amusing and inventive, but the film really begins when Dodge and Penny hit the road. The movie takes a serious turn, turning the camera on the characters and not the jokey predicaments of the first half-hour.
On the big screen Carell leaves the trademarks of his best-known character—Michael Scott from “The Office”—behind. He can still hit a punch line, but he can also drum up empathy for a character without resorting to melodrama. He’s a likeable everyman, and as such the viewer wants the best for him, no matter what the situation.
Knightley is a good foil for Carell. The camera loves her, and soon, despite her character’s self concern, she wins over the audience as well. A scene over spaghetti with a Herb Alpert soundtrack seals the deal. It’s a wonderfully romantic scene about true love, vinyl and getting to know someone better.
It’s a movie that requires the viewer to get caught up in the romance of the story, and accept some far fetched twists. If you’re prepared to accept them, bring some Kleenex. If not, go see “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” instead.
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is a low-key movie that could have been a broad comedy, but instead chooses for a more modest, heartfelt approach.