'Seeking a Friend' has a uniquely sardonic take to the end of the world
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Focus Features
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Screenplay: Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Mark Moses, Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, Adam
Brody and Martin Sheen
Rated R / 1 hour, 41 minutes
Now playing in limited release
(out of four)
There are countless ways for filmmakers to approach the end of the world. And as you may have
noticed over the last couple of years, they've come up with plenty. It seems every week or so I'm
seeing a new way for the world to end.
Lorene Scafaria's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is one of the latest to give it a shot,
and her approach is to use the apocalyptic opportunity first for dark comedy, then for romance.
That the film can never quite figure out how to be both at once is, while probably inevitable, also
emblematic of its problems navigating (and justifying) all its varying genre and formula
But while that may be the case, Seeking a Friend remains a forceful, sincere and funny look at a
civilization casually accepting its own terrible fate, offering more character depth than you might
expect from such an absurd premise, and more levity than you might expect from an end-of-days
In one sense, this is one of those great examples of a filmmaker just taking a really basic, to-the-point concept, tossing it on paper and seeing what she can come up with. In fact, it feels a little
like some sort of classroom brainstorming exercise - "An asteroid is about to destroy Earth, no
chance to avoid it. Three weeks left before the end of the world. Go!"
When the news comes over the radio that the final mission to destroy the oncoming asteroid and
save everyone's lives has been unsuccessful (you failed us, Bruce Willis!!), Dodge Petersen
(Steve Carell in a great, understated performance), sitting in the car with his wife, reacts with
outright detachment. His wife, on the other hand, books it out of the car, running away into the
background, never to be seen again. It's a nice way to set the tone, and the film continues to
emphasize the comedic aspects of the scenario, having a lot of fun with the idea while bracing
itself for its harsher realities.
One of the more amusing touches is the normalcy - or at least a distorted version of normalcy -
that so many still cling to. They still go to the office, park in the same spot, clean their houses
and apartments, broadcast the news. It's both completely irrational and all too rational at the
But for many others, inhibitions hilariously (and depressingly) disappear, whether that means
sleeping with whomever they want without fear of disease, hiring a contract killer, or trying
whatever drugs they haven't gotten around to yet. In what is probably my favorite line of the
movie, Dodge's friend Diane (the hostess of an unofficial end-of-the-world party) excitedly
announces, "Sarah and Dave brought heroin!" And the cheering party guests proceed to offer the
first dose to one of their teenage daughters.
Dodge isn't interested in any of that; his (and everyoneelse's) pending death hasn't changed him much. He's as cautious and risk-averse as he's ever
been, still soft-spoken, regretful and quietly sad. He's just as scared of dying alone as anyone
else, but no longer finds it pertinent to try to do anything about it. Only after acquainting himself
with his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) - needless to say, a more free-spirited type - does he
find the courage and drive to do something meaningful with what's left of his life. For him, it's
finding the proverbial one that got away. Penny, herself in a state of chaos after a recent breakup
and the sudden realization that she'll probably never see her family again, naturally comes along
for the ride.
In the spirit of fair play, I should mention I'm about to start discussing the Dodge/Penny
character dynamics and how they relate both to plot and genre. If you do not know where this
two-person story is headed, then you have probably never seen a movie before. But if that's the
case, you may want to stop here.
Still with me? OK then. As you might imagine, Seeking a Friend becomes more about the
budding romance between Dodge and Penny, with his old flame Olivia becoming a mere
background detail. To Scafaria's credit, she lets the relationship build through organic
interaction between the two and holds off on the "love" aspect until absolutely necessary. The
road-movie formula makes that easier (which many have argued is an inherent flaw of road
movies - it's too easy a device and too obvious a metaphor).
As Dodge and Penny grow closer while the end of the world grows nearer, it becomes easy for
us to connect the dots, observing that two people - virtually any two people - in this bleak a
situation would cling to one another, but out of a need for some human connection rather than
deep, passionate, storybook romance. The movie kind of tries to have it both ways, in that it
can't help but acknowledge the situation for what it is, but still insists on romance as the driving
To a certain extent, this seems like a bit of a compromise, since it fulfills our expectations of a
rom-com, but slightly undercuts the importance of the apocalypse backdrop that was the impetus
for the entire romance in the first place. So I never really bought that Dodge and Penny were
falling head over heels; only that they were running out of time and had found someone with
whom to spend their last days. That would have been good enough. I completely believed their
emotional bond, but not necessarily their everlasting love.
But especially given the different tones and plot requirements Scafaria is trying to juggle, she
does a pretty nice job sidestepping the film's periodic hiccups and emphasizing what works best.
Of all the apocalyptic tales we've seen in recent years, this one is, on its face, one of the silliest,
but oddly enough winds up one of the most convincing.