Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World
According to the Mayan calendar, we have less than 4400 hours left until Doomsday. That’s still plenty of time to pursue a few realistic dreams, make amends with your creators, and find that special someone who satisfies your carnal and psychological needs. Rest assured: all of this can be achieved if you’re prudent with your social engagements and entertainment selections.
If we had all the time in world, writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s cloyingly sweet and uneven Seeking a Friend For the End of the World would be an acceptable candidate to while away the hours. But in these dire circumstances, you could certainly find a more fulfilling reason to linger in a dark room.
For starters, you could revisit last year’s underrated masterpiece, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, a stunning and haunting meditation about depression, set against the backdrop of Earth’s collision with a blue planet. Like it or hate it, you have to admire the artistry of a man fully in control of his tone and vision. It would be unfair to expect the same complexity from a Steve Carell summer comedy that just so happens to share a similar plot and key themes. Still, even by less ambitious standards, Scafaria’s directorial debut rarely succeeds.
Never quite sure about what kind of film it wants to be, Seeking... aimlessly wanders between a wacky high concept comedy befitting Jim Carrey, a road movie, and a profound love story. Along the way, it begs to be taken seriously as it asks philosophical questions. How would you choose to spend your final moments? How can you find comfort in spite of a global meltdown? What ultimately matters during your time on Earth?
In Seeking..., an asteroid named Matilda is 21 days away from destroying all life on Earth; to the minor characters in the film’s first act, it’s the end of the world as we know it and everyone feels just fine. Cue the bacchanalia! Open up your most expensive bottle of wine; light your Cuban cigars. Join the orgy! Go ahead—try heroin! What’s the worst thing that can happen?
Like Kirsten Dunst’s character Justine in Melancholia, Dodge (Carell) sulks in a bathtub and refuses to join the party. His wife has just run away from him and he’s not in the mood. Later that night, he finds Penny (Keira Knightley), a neighbor he barely recognizes, crying on his fire escape. She’s a pot-smoking free spirit, who just dumped her boyfriend, and wants to numb her pain with drugs and end-of-the-world sex.
Penny has been accidentally receiving some of Dodge’s mail for years; with 14 days until the final collision, she brings over the stack. Dodge discovers a letter from his high school sweetheart Olivia, declaring her undying love for him; naturally, he’s determined to find her and fall into her arms one last time. Meanwhile, Penny is trying to get to her parents in England, but all commercial plane travel has been permanently halted. Luckily, Dodge conveniently knows a pilot, and the two are off on a road trip to find Olivia and get Penny on a plane.
When Penny and Dodge hit the road, Scafaria’s vehicle veers into a troubling territory where the foreground never quite matches the background; Carell and Knightley seem to be in an entirely different film than everyone else. Among the bizarre caricatures they encounter on this tedious and far-fetched journey are: a restaurant full of servers and customers rolling on ecstasy, a hysterical man trying to orchestrate his own death, an overzealous cop who throws them behind bars, a Lieutenant Corporal convinced that he’ll repopulate the earth in his bomb shelter, and a group of born again Christians lining up to be baptized. Somewhere along the way, we’re asked to believe that Penny and Dodge fall madly in love with each other—all in time for a teary-eyed over-the-top finish.
While Lars von Trier can get away with these sorts of epic and operatic endings, Scafaria leaves us with a whimper instead of a big bang. She’s still figuring out how to shift gears smoothly to deliver the intended emotional response. She has sprinkled bursts of witty visual gags throughout (a magazine cover’s headline reads “Best of Humanity Issue” over images of Jesus and Oprah, for instance), but it’s often frustrating to watch a worthy premise swerving maddeningly from one world to the next.
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