Director: Lorene Scafaria
Cast: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Melanie Lynskey, Martin Sheen
Running time: 101 min
Release: 13 July
Convention and unorthodoxy make uneasy bedfellows in this doomsday rom-com that wrestles with its own sense of inevitability. Lorene Scafaria enlists Steve Carell and Keira Knightley for her directorial debut, a tale of two people on a quest in a world where time is scarce, death is imminent, and true love is at a premium. Inspired by Scafaria’s experiences of feeling stranded in LA having moved from New York just days before 9/11, and the time she spent taking care of her terminally ill father, the result is a flawed yet worthwhile endeavour.
As Dodge (Steve Carell) and his wife listen to the radio, news filters through that a 70-mile wide asteroid hurtling towards Earth will make contact in 21 days and obliterate humanity. Dodge’s better half runs off without a word, leaving the hapless insurance salesman for dead. He resolves to use his time tracking down an old flame. Unexpectedly he stumbles across Penny (Keira Knightley), sobbing over the demise of her relationship and yearning to see her family in England. They decide to hit the road together, Dodge in search of his lost love and Penny desperate to catch a flight home.
Wry observations abound as fortysomethings shoot up heroin at dinner parties, snipers offer to kill individuals when they least expect it, and mobs wreak havoc in a collective expression of fatalism. It all makes for an interesting backdrop and the more zany elements are offset by a measured somberness that hangs in the air. There’s humour too, but it’s inconsistent. Many of the gags are so-so and there seems to be an attempt to stray into Wes Anderson territory, though what we get is often kooky rather than eclectic. We do encounter some memorable characters, even if their lines don’t always do their performances justice.
Dodge and Penny’s journey is a wayward one and the path of the film occasionally feels ill-defined. Carell, though, is on familiar ground as he plays a reserved man living an inconspicuous life until he is thrust into chaos. Knightley’s character is free-spirited and engaging, with a predilection for marijuana smoking. Clearly she revels in the role, and her performance shines as the film develops.
Suspicion lingers over the pair’s compatibility but things improve once Scafaria abandons the offbeat approach during the final third. Sentimentality rears its head when the pair reveal their inner torments during a heart-to-heart, while the soundtrack and narrative blend into one as the clock ticks down remorselessly.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is torn between blazing a trail and playing a straight bat. It is ironic that a film which aspires to stand apart achieves greater focus once it reverts to type, but despite the bumpy ride there is much to enjoy as Scafaria and her two leads move towards their destination.