Screw you, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Screw you for making me feel things I didn't want to feel. I haven't bawled my eyes out in a movie theatre like this since I saw Up. I was totally unprepared!
That's right. I cried during Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Twice, really. There's more going on in this doomsday scenario than maybe you realize. While, yes, the film is a comedy about the end of days led by a marvelously subdued Steve Carell, it is also a romance about finding what--and who--is really important to you. And this also extends into larger life lessons: if you knew everything would be gone in a flash in three weeks, how would you ensure that your time here meant something?
Funnyman Carell stars in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World as the aptly named Dodge, a meek insurance adjustor who has spent his life avoiding the true heaviness of human existence. He hasn't spoken to his dad in over two decades, and his wife has taken the apocalypse as a good excuse to make a run for it. Dodge has sleptwalked through their marriage, pining for his high school sweetheart who got away. When a letter appears from said sweetheart telling him that she's always regretted their split, Dodge decides to hit the road and find her before it's too late for real.
Going along for the ride is Dodge's emotionally scattered downstairs neighbor. Penny (Keira Knightley) sleeps too much, tends to be flakey, and refers to her vintage record collection as her "friends." Her history of chasing the wrong men has kept her from seeing her family back in England for far too long. She missed her opportunity to catch the last flight over the Atlantic--as she puts it, she's even fifteen minutes late for the end of the world--and to help her fix this, Dodge offers to take her to someone he knows who has a plane. She will lend him emotional support, and he will provide the stability to make sure she gets where she needs to go.
Yes, this sounds like kind of a predictable scenario. On the road trip, Penny will teach Dodge to loosen up and have some fun, and he'll help her focus on the positive, even as he's mired down by negativity himself. Carell is wonderfully self-effacing in the role. His performance here is less about the awkward misdirection he employed throughout his years on The Office; rather, he displays genuine pathos. He knows where he went wrong and he knows who to blame. One of the most heartbreaking scenes in the movie is when Penny tells him that he's a nice guy. He looks her straight in the face, and with utter sincerity replies, "And you're a terrible judge of character." Dodge really believes he's blown it.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is written and directed by Lorene Scarfaria, a bit actor whose previous main credit was writing the screenplay for Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. She steps up to the directing spot with a completely original script, packed to the rafters with solid comedic scenarios and a whole lot of heart. It doesn't hurt that she corrals one of the most incredible ensemble casts to work a screen in a good long while. Naturally, every stop on their journey brings Penny and Dodge into contact with a new kind of eccentric, different people dealing with the end of the world in different ways. The cameos are populated by the likes of Adam Brody, William Peterson, Amy Schumer, Melanie Lynskey, T.J. Miller, Connie Britton, and Rob Huebel. Standing out amongst this already stellar list are Rob Corddry and Patton Oswalt as Dodge's buddies who are finding new standards for hedonism as social mores dissolve, and Community's Gillian Jacobs as a waitress whose gone a bit cuckoo. All three make the most of their brief sequences. There is even a secret cameo buried deep in the film that you won't find mentioned on IMDB; nor will you find it mentioned here.
For as great as all these guest spots are, they only draw attention from the main stars momentarily. Both Carell and Knightley are exceptional in their way, creating characters that could have so easily been cliché, but who instead manage to be fully realized. If, like me, you had forgotten why you liked Keira Knightley once upon a time (I don't care for Love, Actually, but I'd have gone to great lengths to steal her from that guy, too), Seeking a Friend for the End of the World will remind you. She's charming and infuriating and achingly vulnerable.
I'm scared to enthuse too much about Seeking a Friend for the End of the World because I could easily tip over into hyperbole. Scarfaria has made one of the best movies of the year. Granted, it also seems like a movie perfectly designed for me. Self-deprecating humor? Check! Fumbling romance? Check! Daddy issues? Check! Even the soundtrack seems like it was selected to hit my emotional centers. I knew the moment that Penny mentioned Scott Walker in Act 1 that the Scott Walker gun was going to go off in Act 3. That's dirty pool, Scarfaria! You'd already reduced me to tears with that Hollies tune. (Though, you and I both know the Walker songs you played weren't on the record you showed. Tsk tsk.)
Then again, the work here is too good for it not to stand out, regardless of what I say. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World should sell itself if you give it a chance. Like the best movies, it begins with an excellent script, and everything that comes after--the casting, the cinematography, the editing--all service the words in just the right way. Go into this one expecting anything and everything, and just sit back and watch it deliver.