New Release: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Pardon me while I attempt to wipe the lenses of my rose-tinted glasses. You see, I went to a screening of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World on my five-year wedding anniversary. So while I'll attempt to be objective about the film, I must warn you that tiniest bit of a romantic in me has likely swayed my enjoyment and any impartiality is highly improbable at this point.
As a seventy-mile-wide asteroid heads toward Earth, all hope for mankind is lost. The asteroid is scheduled to obliterate our little planet in less than three weeks and Michael Bay is no where around to execute a harebrained rescue mission. So everyone reacts differently, from suicide to crime to drugs and orgies. Except for our protagonist, Dodge (Steve Carell). He keeps going to work (at an insurance agency, no less) and comes home to watch t.v. and regret his life, particularly "the one that got away," Olivia. One night his slightly eccentric neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), is crying on his fire escape because she is no longer able to make it home to England to be with her family before the apocalypse. As the rioters make their way closer to Dodge and Penny's apartment building, in a moment of desperation Dodge promises Penny to get her home to see her family if she helps him find Olivia. And thus the oddball pairing set off on an end-of-times roadtrip.
At first glance, with a basic description, the film could be easily mistaken for a mashup of cliched ideas: schlubby guy, manic-pixie-dreamgirl, roadtrip shenanigans, rom-com tropes, etc. Seeking does touch on a lot those themes, but it never takes any of them to the breaking point of extreme.
Dodge isn't necessarily a "loser," but he married the wrong woman (who literally runs out on him at the beginning of the film) and has a dull job. He's just a normal guy, like most of us who are just living day-to-day lives. Carell shines as the straight man cursed by love, which, outside The Office, seems to be his comfort zone (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine, Crazy Stupid Love) and Seeking is another genuine performance to add to that list.
Perhaps, I've grown immune to the dreadful manic-pixie-dreamgirl stereotype, but Knightley's Penny never delves into Zooey Deschanel terrority for me. She dresses a little strangely and adores her record collection, but at her core she's just an optimistic romantic. And to see Knightley sans corset (or any period costume) was a welcome sight, though we did have to endure an endless trailer for Anna Karenina. Still, she manages to be flawlessly cute, funny, vulnerable and heartbreaking all the same time.
And as oddball as Dodge and Penny are together, the subtleties of the performances allow their forced relationship to blossom organically, because the film isn't necessarily about falling in love with your soulmate as much as it is about not being alone when the end comes. As anti-romantic as that may sound, it's exactly what the film needed in order to avoid the dreadful Hollywood cliches.
As derivative as all the moving parts of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World sound, in the end they all come together to somehow make a complete charmer of a film that doesn't allow itself to fall prey to the typical conveniences of dumbed down romances. Or I was just in the right mood for the right film at the right time.