Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
A rom-com road movie that can’t find its way...
Contemporary films about an impending apocalypse are split firmly between two camps. You have the Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich school of over-the-top action films in which an ensemble cast of characters rush around madly whilst a lot of stuff blows up around them (see Armageddon (1998) and 2012 (2009)). And then you have the contemplative character-driven dramas such as Last Night (1998) and 4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011). Seeking a Friend for the End of the World can be placed firmly in the latter camp; but alas, it strives to be so much more...
The film begins with a car radio broadcast announcing that a last ditch space mission to stop a meteorite colliding with Earth has failed and now the end is inevitable. The car belongs to Dodge, played by Steve Carell. The character of Dodge will be all too familiar to fans of the comic actor. Dodge is the type of down-on-his luck middle-aged man that Carell has played before, both in Dan in Real Life (2007) and Crazy, Stupid Love (2011) but, to his credit, he is still as likeable as always here.
Dodge’s wife has left him and whilst the rest of the world deteriorates in to utter chaos, he is calmly trying to pick up the pieces of his life and move on. However, after a brief encounter with his erratic British neighbour Penny – a moist-eyed Keira Knightley – both are inadvertently thrust together on a road trip to find Dodge’s former sweetheart.
In Seeking a Friend for the end of the world, first-time director Lorene Scafaria ditches the energy she displayed in her screenplay for the above-average rom-com Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008). Instead, here we have a film that plods along from one comic encounter to another. Although some of these scenes contain funny cameos from some brilliant comic actors, including Patton Oswalt and Connie Britten, most of them are too slight and ultimately feel insignificant in relation to the plot. Scafaria’s love of music, which was so integral to Nick and Norah, is present here in the form of Penny’s love of old vinyl records. As a result the film contains a solid soundtrack that includes the likes of The Beach Boys, Scott Walker and Frank Black.
The problem with Seeking a Friend is that it tries to mix a number of genres and comes up short in all of them. It's a rom-com with not enough emphasis on the romance; it’s an overly familiar droll comedy about a man going through a mid-life crisis; it’s a road movie with little visual flair and a lack of imagination when it comes to locations. And, to add insult to injury, it starts off as a black comedy with a number of strained moments that try to shock but quickly become flat and predictable.
The film’s biggest flaw, however, is that in an effort to ape other, more successful, adult comedies it forgoes its greatest strength...quiet introspection. Some of the best scenes in the film are based around conversations between the two leads in which they try to come to terms with their lives. It is in these scenes that Knightley really shines, although elsewhere her heightened emotional state is plain irritating.
And what about the apocalypse itself? Throughout the film we are kept informed of impending Armageddon through a series of comic news reports but, apart from a scene of rioting at the outset, little effort is made to show the effect of the crisis on society as a whole. Unlike films like Zombieland (2009) or Contagion (2011) which depict the world as a savage wasteland or on the verge of collapse, here the broader impact of the crisis is ignored. For example, when Dodge and Penny abandon the city for the countryside during their road trip, they find that life is occurring as normal. This can arguably be viewed as a pastoral subtext about an escape from urban society - one that ultimately strengthens the characters - but like much else in the film it is never fully explored...
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