Hello g33ks, m33ks, and anyone else with a crush on Tricia McMillan. Grab your towels and get ready for Seeking A Friend For The End of the World, one of the funniest tales about the end of the world since the Vogons needed a new highway.
I’ve often said that one of the toughest things about Titanic was knowing that the ship was going down. You knew at the beginning of the film that you were going to have to watch some of the characters you met die–so they had to be extremely amazing characters, or you wouldn’t care when it happened. Seeking A Friend For The End of the World has a similar issue. How do you make an audience care about these characters that begin the film with an expiration date? To that end, how do you make a movie funny when you know the world is going to end? Can you find an audience for this kind of film, released on the same weekend as a surefire, can’t-miss film like Pixar Studios’ Brave and an unknown element like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? Read on to find out.
I’m going to start this review with a MAJOR SPOILER: At the end of this film, the world ends.
Whoa!!!! I know that’s a shocker, but I’m going to say it again: At the end of this film, the world actually does end. There’s no last-minute save, no last-second pull back. No time travel, no space mission, no waking up to find it was all just a dream. It’s over for humanity, it’s over for the planet, and if you’re anything like me, it’s the perfect ending to an incredibly difficult-to-pull-off film. We learn in the first 30 seconds that mankind’s last best hope to stop the impending death from above, a 70-mile-wide asteroid named Matilda, has failed. Yet, many people in the audience still, somehow, expected something or someone to save the day. For those people, this film was a real disappointment, and I don’t want it to be for anyone else. Now, to be totally fair to the film, it does absolutely nothing to give anyone any semblance of hope that life will go on. The need or desire to see it do so is based purely on the fact that the audience cannot help but be absolutely charmed by the ridiculous misadventures of Dodge (Steve Carrell) and Penny (Keira Knightley).
This film is equal parts funny and sad. The humor is twisted and extremely morbid, but also endearing. In one scene, Dodge is invited over to his friend’s home for an end of the world dinner party. This dinner party comes with everything: stilted, polite conversation, awkward blind date meet-ups, drunken fights between husband and wife, and even excitement at the prospect that the couple down the street brought some extremely hard drugs for everyone to try. It has that feel of the moment when someone shows up to a party with a case of champagne and everyone rushes to join them. For the audience, a scene like this in any other film would be maddening–here, it is almost whimsical.
None of this would work if not for a well chosen cast. Keira Knightley and Steve Carrell are perfect in their roles. They are both driven by their personal quests to find lost love or get home to their families, and we experience every little emotion they have along the way. Aside from our two leads, we have Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt, Martin Sheen, Rob Heubel, Melanie Lynskey, Adam Brody, Derek Luke, TJ Miller and William Peterson. I would designate the role each character plays in the film, but seeing them show up and interject their characters’ personality into this thing is part of the point. This isn’t the trap a lot of ensemble comedies fall into where someone comes in long enough to drop a one liner and then leaves–every one of these actors has something to do with their time on screen. They get to mouth off, be happy, sad, drunk, high, crazy, upset, in shock, and die in ways there’s no room to in another film. It wouldn’t work if they had any chance of going on after the screen goes black.
This is not a film that will be for everyone. It’s a hard film to sell and a really hard one to enjoy if you can’t let go of the traditional Hollywood deus ex machina, where someone or something magically saves the world at the end of the film. If you need that hope to enjoy a movie, then do yourself a favor and skip this one. You’ll be too focused on the fact that everyone dies to notice we’re watching two people have the time of their lives even though there’s no time left. The theme of this film is that we spend so much time trying to get by that we forget the things we really want–but it’s never too late to get them. Even if all life on the planet will be vaporized in 21 days, there’s still time to travel, to take a class, and to find the love of your life.