Review of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

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This 2012 comedy revolves around a man called Dodge (Steve Carell) whose wife takes off as the end of the world nears from the impending doom of an asteroid crash. He teams up with his longtime neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) to find his old childhood sweetheart before the world ends.
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What does the end of the world look like? This is a question that's been tackled in any number of places, from holy books to comic books. If Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, opening Friday, June 22nd, is to be trusted, it looks a lot like Steve Carell and Keira Knightly going on a road trip.

As the film opens, a civilization ending asteroid has been heading towards Earth for some time. When the final last ditch effort to avert disaster fails, the all of humanity is given three weeks to live.

Steve Carell plays Dodge, a mild mannered insurance salesman with an average life that he was more than happy with right up until the apocalypse came. When the impending doom of the human race is announced over the radio, his wife responds by leaving him, by way of immediately bolting from the car and sprinting away into the night. Keira Knightly is Penny, a free spirited 20-something of ill defined vocation who realizes the end of days is a good time to dump her good for nothing boyfriend.

With his marriage over, Dodge is facing the prospect of dying alone. With commercial air flight suspended, Penny has no way to get to her family in England. Pushed together into a tight spot, they make a deal: If Penny will drive him to where he may be able to reconnect with his high school sweetheart, Dodge will get her to where he has a lead on a private plane. The pair hit the road, growing closer as the clock ticks to a final zero.

As long as the movie keeps it's eye on the story between Dodge and Penny, it succeeds. When it tries to show the larger picture though, it tends to fall short. In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, the unwashed masses seem to take the end of the world quite well. Maybe I've seen a few too many zombie movies, but watching the film, I couldn't help but think: Where's the apocalyptic horror? Where are the burned out cars and bands of murderous nutballs? There's one plot device riot and suicide is suddenly in vogue, but generally, Dodge and Penny have an easy time of it, to the point of distraction.

But then, this isn't a movie about disaster response or national campaigns. Seeking a Friend isn't about the end of the world, it's about two people and where the end of the world takes them. On that level, the movie flies true. Carell and Knightly seem like an odd pairing, and they are, but it works. The two are playing just enough against type to allow an unlikely chemistry to breath. Their characters, Dodge and Penny, are playing against type as well. In their day to day lives “before”, they never met, despite living just a fire escape away from each other. The world may be ending, but it wasn't working so well for either of them anyway.

In this boy meets girl at the end of the world tale, you can have your glass half empty or half full. Maybe the movie is an incredibly hopeful tale: Even at the worst of times, love has a chance. Or maybe it's an incredibly depressing cautionary tale: These two potential soul mates, who lived in the same building, had no chance of connecting until their world was literally falling apart.

As a hard nosed piece of speculative fiction, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World falls rather flat. But that's okay, because where its aspirations lay, as a heartfelt story of two people finding what matter right when they need to, it works.