“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”

By Brian Stern
He doesn‘t want to die alone. She doesn‘t want to sleep through it all.

“There is a reason that opposites are supposed to attract,” states the whimsical Penny (Keira Knightly, “Pirates of the Caribbean”), the bandana-wearing bohemian, to Dodge (Steve Carell of “The Office” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”), an Argyle-sweatered insurance salesman, in writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s new film, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.” She couldn’t be more right. This fanciful romantic dark comedy about the apocalypse thrives on absurdist humor and a zany cast of characters which makes it a non-stop laugh riot from start to finish.

Scafaria’s film begins in the aftermath of Earth’s last-ditch attempt at salvation. The space mission “Deliverance” failed to destroy a 70-mile-wide asteroid named “Matilda” from hurtling on a collision course with Earth. With just 21 days left before impact, Dodge’s wife runs off, leaving him alone for the end of the world.  After a series of awkward, yet comical interactions—like fleeing from a riot with an ex-boyfriend, a box of vinyl albums, and an abandoned dog named “Sorry”—Dodge and Penny embark on a quest to find Dodge’s soul-mate, and a plane ticket for Penny, before they both die in a fiery explosion.

The acting is simply superb in its complementary chemistry. Carell is a master of situationally-awkward humor and over-the-top facial expressions. Knightly’s witty lines are made even more sensational by her delicate poise and spot-on delivery. Together, his dry, dead-pan cynicism exquisitely juxtaposes her crazy, quirky optimism. Their onscreen harmony transforms the script’s early one-line zingers into acerbic aphorisms by the end of the film: Forget old regrets and just live life—even one with only 14 day left—to its fullest.

SPOILER ALERT: Of its numerous hilarious sequences, the restaurant “date” scene perhaps best encapsulates the movie’s overall feel. After burying the trucker (CSI alum William Petersen) with whom they’ve hitched a ride—following an anonymously-assisted murder/suicide—Penny and Dodge stop for a bite. The eatery is a slightly satirical, tongue-in-cheek establishment “where everyone’s you’re friend.” (Being the last and only food service spot open during Armageddon, the management has left its corporate-food-chain roots behind, in favor of a more casual vibe.)

Things escalate from zero to outrageous in 15 seconds. “I’m rolling pretty hard right now,” says the trippy waitress played by Gillian Jacobs (NBC’s “Community”), “but if you stay super positive, I will bring you those ‘M-slides’ and maybe a spin-dip for the table.” The waitress, Katie, then conga-lines her way straight from marijuana to orgy. Snappy writing brings these preposterous scenes to life in a beautiful way that’s both over-the-top and entertaining.

“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is about inadvertently finding happiness in the present, while chasing the past, and attempting to escape the inevitable.  Enchanting and capricious, this love story gives hope that from out of the ashes of a shattered life—and amidst the chaotic countdown to the end of Creation—life is not about regretting the past: “Sorrys” don’t matter in the end, living does, whether for a month, a week, or a moment. Kudos to Lorene Scafaria on a script well-written, to Knightly and Carell for characters beautifully-embodied, and to the simplicity of the well-delivered—if at times slightly heavy-handed—message that you can’t “dodge” life, even at the end of the world.