Armageddon movies are historically rarely ever comical: On the Beach, 28 Days Later…, The Road, the recent downer Melancholia…the list goes on and on. Expectantly, any end-of-the-world films are typically chaotic, action-packed and/or depressing, just as one would imagine. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is just depressing. There are occasional moments that are a bit funny, but for the most part the film’s nothing more than a boring story about boring people facing imminent doom.
In the opening scene, mundane insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carell) is parked in his car with his wife seated next to him (played by Carell’s real-life spouse, Nancy). Neither one turns to look at the other. They sit there quietly as the radio DJ announces the end of the world is less than three weeks away. And then Dodge’s wife bolts out the door never to be seen again.
The thought of a meteor ending Earth’s existence, predictably, is quite terrifying. But no one seems to have that outlook. Dodge actually goes to work at his miserable office. Then, on the other side of the spectrum, his friends elate in the idea of not having to have protected sex, practice basic safety with their children or filter any sort of emotion, thought or feeling. But Dodge is left alone: his wife took off with another man 21 days before the world’s asteroid collision, and he has no family to speak of.
And then Penny (Keira Knightley) ends up outside of his window sobbing. She has left her boyfriend (Adam Brody) and desperately wants to return to her family in England before it’s all over. Unlikely, but Dodge happens to know a guy with a plane. Penny suddenly cares.
The unlikely couple sets out on a road trip to find Dodge’s lost love and a plane for Penny. Imagining Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as love interests is just as preposterous as one could imagine. Granted, it is the end of the world and all, and misery loves company, but Carell and Knightley never make sense. Their chemistry is not only entirely unconvincingly, but downright nonexistent. Even if writer/director Lorene Scafaria was going for the Lost in Translation angle, the idea fell flat on its face.
Their road trip is nothing more than what would be expected: sharing of random memories, things they should’ve or could’ve but didn’t, stories of lost loves, admissions of regrets…basically, the type of conversation anyone would have with another stranger if they were the only person they had to hold onto.
However, there is one salvageable scene amongst the rubble. Dodge and Penny pull over at a T.G.I. Friday’s-type of place for a bite to eat. Shockingly still up and running, the wait staff is blissfully indulging in food, sex and drugs. The employees are all rolling on ecstasy, all inhibitions are thrown out the door and Dodge is even offered some under-the-table action, which he gracefully declines.
Finally Penny and Dodge start to gain some momentum, but it’s never enough. Obviously the two of them are desperate either to find someone or go someplace, with highly unrealistic expectations, so it would be a natural progression into a lovers’ bond. She’s erratic, unpredictable, passionate and flakey. He is poised, uptight and sad. But opposites don’t always attract, even in the most extraordinary of circumstances, proof being Dodge and Penny. The story, for whatever reason, though, forces the pair together, and it’s so feeble that it comes off as a serious casting error.
Nonetheless, the idea is there. While the general conception is that the world will turn to anarchy and chaos in the event of its premature conclusion, it is interesting to watch something a bit more lighthearted. Maybe some people will apathetically shrug or carry on with their remaining couple weeks like any other rather than flipping into a world-wide state of panic. But with Seeking a Friend the only thing audiences are left to think about is, “Who would have thought the end of the world would be so ordinary?”
Plagued with irony throughout, the film is a little glimpse into the alternative to utter pandemonium. Why not cheat on your spouse? Why not let the kids have a go at over-the-counter fireworks? But certainly never once would the expected response be to show up at work on Monday. In turn, Seeking a Friend’s main character ends up being the dullest. Even with Knightley compensating with energy and unrelenting hope, Carell’s character only darkens it all.
The message is obvious: a love story about two people who otherwise would never have found one another. Sometimes, though, exceptionally negative circumstances and abandonment are not enough for two people to hit it off, as proven in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is now playing in theaters.
For more information, visit the film’s official website.