After a failed attempt to stop an asteroid from hitting Earth, the planet’s inhabitants find out that they only have three weeks to live before total annihilation. For Dodge (Steve Carell), this horrific news results in his wife leaving him, which further separates him from a growingly chaotic world. As Dodge sits in a lonely shame spiral, he is suddenly interrupted by Penny (Keira Knightly), a youthful and rebellious neighbor in his apartment complex who hands Dodge his missing mail from the past three months. After finding some lost postage, the two decide to go on a road trip in order to find their loved ones, with Penny wanting to be with her family and Dodge attempting to seek out his high school sweetheart. As they drive across the country, the two encounter many odd miscreants, discuss their lives, and find someone to love as the world crumbles around them.
There have been many apocalyptic films over the past few years, from Roland Emmerich’s ridiculous action fest 2012 to Lars Von Trier’s effortlessly hopeless Melancholia. All of these apocalyptic films have their benefits and drawbacks, but a major thing that always seems to be missing from them is an everyman dealing with the apocalypse (and no, John Cusack doesn’t count as an “everyman”). Seeking a Friend populates its cast of characters with a large selection of everymen, all of whom react to the world’s demise in varying and relatable degrees. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria uses several one-off characters to show off the full range of reactions to this situation, from immediate suicide to gorging hedonism. This does lead to some occasional off-kilter tonal shifts, but the mixture of dark comedy and drama works out more often then it doesn’t.
Those smaller pieces aside, the central storyline following the Dodge character is the most relatable and engaging. He’s having to deal with crushing loneliness at a time when being around loved ones is crucial to survival, both of the physical and mental variety. Seeing him trying to hang on to his crushing normality as society crumbles around him sets up his growth into a more full human being beautifully, as the Penny character manages to build up his self esteem in a believable fashion. Speaking of Penny, her character has the danger of becoming a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a flat love interest whose only purpose is to be kooky and get the main character out of his funk. Now, while elements of that trope can be found there, the script manages to develop Penny in a realistic fashion. She’s not perfect and has certain issues she has to struggle through. Both she and Dodge learn and grow from each other in ways that are never that shallow and are always grounded in reality.
The cast is a very diverse and large one, featuring several familiar faces in very short, but memorable bit roles. The likes of Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, Gillian Jacobs, Rob Huebel, Adam Brody, TJ Miller, William Peterson, Melanie Lynskey, Martin Sheen, Connie Britton and Derek Luke all come in at some point, showing off either an emotionally enrapturing or darkly comedic take on dealing with the oncoming end of days. However, the quintessential performers here are Steve Carell and Keira Knightly, both of who have been in a rut recently in their film careers… and they more than make up for it here. All the issues with the previously mentioned Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope and the obvious age difference that can be considered from the outside melt away as the two of them have an undeniable chemistry that feels so believable and investing.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a touching look at the end times through a romantic dramedy perspective. Its characters are written in a believable fashion, its performers are effortlessly charming and its examination of how people act during the oncoming apocalypse packs powerful comedic punches along with tearful dramatic elements in one felt swoop. It gives us hope for any potential end of the world scenario… and you know for damn sure that if that Mayans stuff ends up being true I’ll either be trying to hitch a ride with Keira Knightly or ingesting as many illegal substances as possible. Or both. Either way, I’m going out happy, damn it!