By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
If the film’s premise is true, and the planet is due to go poof! in three weeks’ time, then run, do not walk, to the very next showing of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. If you hurry, you might be able to squeeze in a second viewing … because yes, it’s that good.
Filmmaker Lorene Scafaria previously wrote the screenplay to 2008’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Infinite, indeed. Now, as a flip side, she depicts a couple whose lives are leashed to the immediate present. Three weeks, to be exact. With no time to waste, Scafaria gets right to it, as Steve Carell’s Dodge and his wife Linda (Carell’s real-life spouse, actress Nancy Carell) sit in their car, listening to a radio broadcast that confirms the worst: In less than a month, a 70-mile-wide asteroid will collide with Earth, obliterating all of humanity in the twinkle, twinkle of a star. For once, those street-corner zealots have it right: The end is most decidedly near.
And boom! dead on course, people spring into a variety of actions. Dodge’s wife jumps out of the car, running away for good. Amid the deniers, rioters, survivalists, optimists and hedonists, we meet Dodge’s friend Warren (Rob Corddry), who urges his five-year-old kids to drink alcohol, coaching them to “fight through the burn.” Another pal (Patton Oswalt), celebrates the fact that women are his for the taking, be they married, diseased or what-the-hell, even related. A housekeeper (a spot-on Tonita Castro) is so steeped in denial that when the good-natured Dodge suggests that she should no longer come in to clean his house, she’s shocked and offended. “You’re firing me?”
Echoing his housekeeper’s work ethic, the aptly-named Dodge — an insurance salesman who’s lived his life with great caution, expecting yet frightened of the worst – initially tries to bravely carry on, showing up at the office, exercising at the gym. But when a scattered neighbor (Keira Knightley’s Penny) gives Dodge some old mail of his that had gotten mixed up in hers, he finds a love letter from his onetime high school sweetheart. As the clock ticks down, he decides to hit the road to try to track her down, with Penny and a scruffy dog named Sorry in tow. Per the David Bryne/Talking Heads’ song that underscores the film’s trailer, the characters are literally “on the road to nowhere.”
Scafaria, taking on both writing and first-time directing duties, has created a bittersweet, extraordinarily funny film brimming with humanity in all its glorious imperfection. It’s not everyday that we experience an apocalyptic comedy … even more surprising is the brilliant juggle of emotions that thread throughout the piece. Akin to the early James L. Brooks dramedies (As Good As It Gets, Terms of Endearment), one moment we’re grinning; the next, we’re holding back tears.
As for the two leads, the actors have never been better. Carell’s Dodge is our decent everyman who’s so sad, so heartsick, that we can’t help but love him for his every kind gesture, for his courage as well as his fear. When he spares a spider (who returns the favor by biting him); when he refuses to bed his best friend’s wife; when he takes on the care of a dog that he inadvertently gets attached to (waking up with the animal physically tied to him ), he’s the one person that we’re happy to follow to the ends of the earth.
Playing his neighbor and traveling companion, Knightley depicts a type of character that we’ve never seen from her before. Her Penny is funny and gawky, a sunny geek dressed in sneakers seemingly too big for her feet, sporting a bobbed hairstyle so choppy that we suspect she may have cut it herself. Distraught at her inability to fly back home to see her beloved parents, Penny is a big-hearted Brit who adores everyone and everything: her record albums that she drags along with her, a love of subways, dentists and even ne’er do well boyfriends who she adopts like strays. Whether it’s due to the crisp script, the smart direction, or working with the beautifully understated Mr. Carell, Knightley’s portrayal is so genuine, so mannerism-free, so full of light, that we are wholly entranced.
Back to the David Bryne song: Dodge and Penny may very well may be on the road to nowhere … at least outwardly. But as for their inner journey, in three weeks’ time, together they travel worlds. How marvelous that we get to come along for the ride.
Rating on a scale of 5 not-so Melancholias: 4.5
Release date: June 22, 2012
Written and Directed by: Lorene Scafaria
Cast: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Tonita Castro, Rob Corddry, Gillian Jacobs, Derek Luke, Melanie Lynsky, T.J. Miller, Mark Moses, Patton Oswalt, William Peterson, Martin Sheen, Bob Stephenson
Running Time: 101 minutes