Pre-apocalyptic tale highlights the human element, not impending doom
What is it with Hollywood’s obsession with the apocalypse? The easy answer is that studios are just giving the public what they want. This explains why disaster movies are so popular, with ostentatious special effects dominating the screen while human characters are merely pawns to the destruction in front of them. And while there have also been several post-apocalyptic films to date, rarely do we get the pre-apocalypse variety, specifically those that emphasize the core human element and not the global calamity as it is about to unfold.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a pre-apocalypse tale that finds favor with the human element. It takes a while for writer Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut to get going, but once it finds its footing it becomes a beguilingly effective film. Seeking a Friend isn’t something you would call “mainstream,” but its structure makes it hard to label as “arthouse.” It’s frustrating like that. As are the comedy moments that don’t work as they should. Thankfully, Scafaria’s dialogue brings forth an emotionality that some unexpected viewers may find surprising, if not profound.
If you’ve seen one impending doom movie, then you know that if a last ditch effort to save mankind fails all stories come to an end. Anything life-changing is no longer. Pending births won’t occur. An argument will never see its resolution. And so on. Scafaria doesn’t spend much time with the “what could have been” and fulfill a bevy of hopes and dreams, but she does show a sample of how people would react to Armageddon – the real thing, and not that Michael Bay movie. With not worrying about what the future has in store, it causes some to engage in promiscuous behavior, while others will spend their remaining days sticking to routine, remaining in solitude, or doing something totally unexpected (rioting, perhaps?).
When the movie opens, Dodge (Steve Carell) and his wife (real-life wife Nancy Walls) are sitting in a car listening to a classic rock station serenely. Unfortunately, the radio announcer interrupts to explain that “The final mission to save mankind has failed. The 70-mile-wide asteroid known as ‘Matilda’ is set to collide with Earth in three weeks’ time, and we’ll be bringing you our countdown to the end of days… along with all your classic rock favorites.” Appropriately enough the next song cued is The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” a seminal favorite from the group that drives home the finer points about how being older would be the bee’s knees so that a boy and girl can be married and be happy. Before the song can get to the never-ending kisses part, Dodge’s wife has already opened the passenger door and bolted away, never to be seen or heard from again. Guess she’s more of a Beatles fan.
The opening scene is perfect in the context that it explains so much without needing either character to speak. The actions of Dodge’s wife and his in-action would make for a great conclusion to a short film. But what to do with the remaining ninety minutes?
Now a bachelor, Dodge continues his normal routine for the next few days, going to work as if it were business as usual. He eventually has one of those epiphany moments where he decides he wants to reconnect with the girl that got away – not his wife, but his old high school sweetheart, Olivia. As Doug makes the decision on how to spend his last few days on Earth, his apartment neighbor across the way, Penny (Keira Knightley), is dealing with her own crisis – namely, not being able to get home to her parents in the United Kingdom due to the airline services shutting down. The two come to arrangement that would see Penny help Dodge locate Olivia, and he, knowing someone with a plane, would see that she commiserates her final days with family.
Seeking a Friend becomes a road trip movie, so during their journey Dodge and Penny meet some colorful characters, including one man with terminal cancer who has hired a personal assassin to kill him. For those who don’t want to know the exact moment when they’ll die this idea makes a lot of sense. Also not surprising about the road trip is seeing Dodge and Penny draw ever so close as the days click down to the end of humanity.
There are a few reasons why the film works better than it should, and it begins with the two leads, Carell and Knightley, playing to their strengths. Carell plays an introvert well, as demonstrated in Little Miss Sunshine, while Knightley’s Penny is outgoing and audacious. They have an understated chemistry that sees their friendship grow into something more. This is due to Lorene Scafaria’s rich dialogue and a screenplay that makes us believe their romance, because it doesn’t include the same tropes as found in most romantic comedies.
As was evident in the Scafaria-scribed Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, music is a crucial element in her writing process. Seeking a Friend has one of the best well-rounded soundtracks with selections from the already mentioned Beach Boys, plus P.M. Dawn, Inxs, Herb Albert & The Tijuana Brass and many other great artists. Either she is a distant relative to writer-director Cameron Crowe or she just has good taste in music. It would have been easy to place R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” somewhere in the film, but oldie but goodie “The Sun Ain’t Going to Shine (Anymore)” by the Walker Brothers is more in sync with the story overall.
Seeking a Friend isn’t without its problems, though. The biggest is its changing narrative and its interrupted flow in the last act. But the conclusion is commendable because it lives up to its title. The film ends exactly as it should. If you are looking for a straight-up comedy, which this is being mismarketed as, this would be best to avoid; because Seeking a Friend is more about the honesty shared by two strangers in the event of a catastrophic event.
Writer-Director: Lorene Scafaria Notable Cast: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Melanie Lynskey, Adam Brody, Patton Oswalt, Derek Luke, Rob Corddry
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!