Steve Carell might be best known for starring in strictly comedic roles in The Office and The 40 Year Old Virgin, but Carell shows that he can tackle deeper characters while maintaining his dry wit alongside Keira Knightley in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
Carell and Knightley show off a surprising amount of on-screen chemistry in Lorene Scafaria’s feature directorial debut, giving the film a rare, emotionally satisfying combination of comedy and drama a la 2009’s 500 Days of Summer.
Scafaria, who wrote Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, does not focus on a group of people attempting to save the planet, or on the scientific aspect of the apocalypse at all, as most end-of-the-world films do.
It’s clear from the start that Seeking a Friend is about average people and how they would react if they knew that the end was coming. The choice to focus on that aspect of the day of reckoning brings a fresh take to a plot point that has been muddled down by the recent craze of Armageddon-type movies like 2012 that have disappointed with a lack of depth.
Carell plays Dodge, an introverted insurance salesman whose wife leaves him after it is announced that a last ditch attempt to prevent a giant asteroid from crashing into Earth has failed, leaving all humans with only 21 days left to live.
As Dodge’s friends devolve into a state of chaos, throwing raucous parties as they experiment with heroin and feed their toddlers alcohol, he mainly broods around and thinks about better times, which seems to be Carell’s go-to move for his dramatic roles.
Outside of some dark apocalyptic humor — a suicidal jumper lands on Dodge’s windshield — this portion of the plot drags, as it seems Dodge will end up alone for the last three weeks of Earth’s existence.
But one night, not long after a failed suicide attempt, Dodge meets Penny (Knightley), a free spirit who’s proceeded through life with a fraction of the caution that Dodge has.
Knightley portrays Penny, the quintessential modern hippie, quite well. She brings a Zooey Deschanel-esque innocent cuteness to the role, which she was never able to show in the three Pirates of the Caribbean flicks she starred in.
When a riot threatens the safety of the pair’s apartment building, Dodge breaks out of his funk and decides to embark on an adventure to find his old high school sweetheart Olivia, who had attempted a month earlier to re-connect with him through a letter. Penny, who wants to be with her family in England, impulsively decides to join him, and the duo set off.
That’s when the plot — and the laughs — really pick up.
The pair encounter a diner where all the waiters and patrons are rolling on ecstasy (Gillian Jacobs and T.J. Miller steal the scene), a man who believes they are the assassins he hired to kill himself and Dodge’s long-detached father, who we find played a big part in shaping Dodge into the guarded man he became.
Many comedy drama films fail to establish an emotional connection between its protagonists and its audience, causing the more dramatic moments to suffer. But Carell and Knightley ably reject this stereotype, drawing the audience into becoming emotionally invested in the characters’ journey. As the characters get closer to reaching their destination, you find yourself desperately hoping that Dodge and Penny somehow avoid the inevitable end of the world.
There are a couple points where the 100-minute film drags — namely in a largely unnecessary scene where Dodge and Penny are jailed for going 15 miles per hour over the speed limit.
Another small irritation comes from Owen (Adam Brody), Penny’s boyfriend, who is solely in the film to provide comic relief in a riot scene that would have been better without it.
But all in all, Seeking A Friend provides a delightful movie going experience, brilliantly integrating the comedic and dramatic aspects of the script.
Though the film does slow to a bit of crawl near the middle, it’s an engrossing, charming ride, even as the characters’ outlooks become gradually more depressing.
Admittedly, the plot does somewhat begin to fall into mushy romantic comedy clichés, but several plot twists near the film’s conclusion keeps the audience guessing until the end.