Thursday, June 21, 2012
Review of SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (2012)
- Rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence.
- Starring Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Adam Brody, TJ Miller, Martin Sheen, Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt, William Petersen, Derek Luke
- Written & Directed by Lorene Scafaria
- Running time: 1hr 40min.
When I saw the trailer, I wasn't too impressed. Another quirky romantic/comedy with a post-apocalyptic twist, I thought. Well, it's not really post-apocalyptic. Pre-apocalyptic is probably the more accurate term (which isn't even a term, I think). But the end result was actually more than I expected.
An asteroid is on it's way to Earth and will crash in 30 days, thus destroying the planet. Dodge (Carell) is a 40 something schlub whose wife leaves him in a panic. At first, he still attends his dead-end office job, but when he gets a letter from an old flame wanting to reconnect, he decides to take a road trip to find her. But before he leaves, he meets his 28 year old neighbor Penny (Knightley), who has just broken up with her boyfriend. The 2 form an unlikely friendship and go on the road trip together, as Dodge has agreed to take her to her family. Their journey has them meeting various different eccentric characters as their friendship grows stronger.
The movie opens with a series of offbeat sequences and skits that show how people are reacting to the world ending. Dodge attends parties with people doing heroin and sleeping with strangers (since it doesn't really matter), but he still doesn't want to go nuts. He lives his life the same old boring way. The characters that pop up in this first part are all eccentrics who have gone mad with this horrifying news. William Petersen plays a guy who has put a contract on himself, Patton Oswalt plays a guy who has sex with a new person every day, and TJ Miller is the world's most friendliest waiter at a TGI Friday's-type place (which ends up being an orgy). These are all mildly amusing scenes, but they're played very broadly. It kind of works, but it's nothing mindblowing.
Then something unexpected happened in the second half. The tone dramatically shifts. The focus becomes mainly on Dodge and Penny's friendship, which is for the most part platonic. But their interaction is what makes this movie shine. This is to be credited to the two leads. Steve Carell is pretty much doing what he usually does, playing the hopeless sad sack. But there is a new weight and urgency here that he usually doesn't display. The film's major saving grace is Keira Knightley. Her Penny character is the kind of free spirit you would expect her to play, but there are some pretty emotionally intense scenes in the last portion of the film that she pulls off extremely well. She does the comedy wonderfully while emotionally pulling you into the film.
Screenwriter Lorene Scafaria has made a solid debut as a director. She seems to handle all the technical stuff without a hitch. Her script is pretty good too, though the comedy stuff in the first half is only amusing for awhile. Which is why I'm glad she decided to switch tones halfway through. I think Scafaria's greatest strength is writing 2 characters talking. The interaction between Dodge and Penny is easily the best thing about the movie. These 2 characters are drawn out perfectly and make the audience care for them as they go on about their journey. I hope in the future that she ditches the comedy all together and just make a serious movie about interesting people. The premise is a great place for these characters to live. It also made me think how I would react to this type of situation. It definitely brings up some interesting conversations amongst friends. I don't want to give the movie away, so I'm trying to stay away from spoilers.
What starts off as almost a sketch comedy with broad humor turns into an intimate character piece about 2 unlikely individuals forming a strong bond. I wasn't sure during the first half if I was digging it or not, but by the film's conclusion, I was deeply moved. It even made me cry. If you like unconventional, offbeat comedies that aren't safe, then give this a try. I'm curious to see how I would react to it a second time. The shift in tone might be jarring for some, but it's the main reason why I liked it.
*** (out of ****)