The oft heard question “What would you do if you had [insert number here] days left to live?” is not a hard one for most people to answer. Most would spend it with their loved ones waiting for death to take hold of them. The surprisingly simplistic answer of such a difficult question, and the ease from which it comes, says a lot about humanity. Despite our obsession with materialistic things, most of us know what’s truly important in life. That’s the driving force behind the new apocalyptic dramedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Although hardly a revelatory study on human behavior, the film is nothing less than sincere, even when it’s a bit too jokey for its own good.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World wastes no time in setting up its grim story. As it begins, Dodge (Steve Carell) and his wife Linda (Nancy Carell) are sitting on the side of the road in their car as the radio gives them some bad news. A 70-mile wide asteroid is heading to Earth and all attempts to stop it have failed. Humankind has three weeks left to live. Linda then hops out of the car and runs away, leaving Dodge all alone. He then goes about the next week of his life lonely and depressed until he runs into his British neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), who wishes for nothing more than to see her family. Unfortunately, they still live overseas and all planes have been grounded. Dodge knows someone who can help her out, however, and promises to reunite her with her family if she will accompany him as he searches for his long lost high school love, Olivia, before the world ends.
If Seeking a Friend for the End of the World had to be described in as concise a way as possible, it would be as a film with moments of profound beauty accompanied by an uneasy dose of emotion evaporating comedy. Its early moments are too farcical for its own good, laying a dishonest groundwork for a film that eventually reveals hidden layers of meaning as it goes on. With cameos by notable over-the-top comedians like Rob Corddry and Amy Schumer, the movie plays too much to its silly side while the characters face a grim and unavoidable situation. Despite an initial appreciation for these scenes, they don’t hold up upon reflection because what follows is a devastating, gut wrenching finale.
That in no way, of course, diminishes the impact of said finale. The ending is simultaneously terrifying and utterly beautiful. It manages to both make you smile and make you cry and the very last shot, which I dare not give away, will stick with you. It couldn’t have ended a better way. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World may be the most emotionally affecting movie to be released so far this year and that’s in spite of its larger deficiencies, like some awkward bonding scenes involving riots and a suicide assisted assassination.
Much of the credit can be given to Steve Carell, who once again proves his dramatic talent. His character is a very sad man, someone who waited his entire life for happiness to find him and now that he’s out of time, he recognizes he waited too long. Carell brilliantly realizes this man. He doesn’t whine over what could have been (and any mention of it is solely for expository purposes rather than a superficial attempt to win the audience’s affection); he just shows it on his face. Even when making a joke, even when he’s trying to feign happiness, his look gives him away. Sadness pervades him. Carell continues to impress in whatever role he’s in, be it comedy or drama, and though I doubt he’ll be recognized for it, he gives what is sure to be one of the best performances of the year.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, like so many movies, has tons of potential to be great, but squanders it. The fact that the ending of the movie still works as well as it does shows that with a little extra care, with some more reasonable early film decisions and a maybe a few cuts here and there, it could have been something special. But this is one of those rare movies you won’t look back on and remember disappointment. You won’t dwell on its problems. You’ll remember how the ending made you feel (and it’s bound to make you feel something) and the ensuing effect it had on you. While I can’t justifiably make the argument that the film is anything more than simply good, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World hits so many right notes that, in retrospect, its problems don’t seem so large at all.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World receives 3.5/5