“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is a tender, imperfect film (3.75/5)

The opening line of dialogue from Seeking a Friend… is a cruel joke, but one that delivers on the title’s assertion of the world ending. Most films that feature a space induced apocalypse tend to develop a heroic plan to destroy whatever it is that’s heading to earth just in time for the credits to roll. That’s not the case here. Our protagonist Dodge (Steve Carell), along with us by his side, hears that the lone rescue mission to prevent a comet from hitting the Earth has failed. Three weeks is the assigned doomsday for the Earth. Bruce Willis won’t be present to save us. Impending doom lurks over the Earth and, unfortunately for Dodge, he’ll be spending his last days alone. After his wife literally runs away from him, Dodge sleepwalks through his daily routine. The world is falling apart around him, but he doesn’t seem to notice or even care. He is fulfilling most people’s nightmare: dying alone. Even at a party, where most of the people are partaking in the indulgent activities they have harbored deep in their minds (shooting heroine, extramarital affairs, and desperate sexual activity with family members), Dodge sulks in his lonely end game.

Fortunately, Dodge unceremoniously meets his bohemian neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) on a night where her emotions stream freely on his fire escape. Penny, who is also going through a breakup of sorts, confides in the restricted Dodge. Their meeting gives birth to a letter addressed to Dodge that Penny inadvertently has in her possession. Said letter is from Dodge’s first love, a woman who desperately wants to reconnect with him before it all ends. The problem is that the letter is three months old and features no return address. With three weeks left of earthly existence, Dodge’s love is beyond fleeting; it is dead.  But, as most love stories go, inspiration strikes Dodge in an unexpected way (a wave of rioting that hits his apartment complex), and he aims to find his lost love before time runs out. Feeling obligated to Dodge’s doomed love life, Penny tags along under the guise that if she assists Dodge’s last ditch efforts for love, he will find her a plane in return and fly her back to Britain, so she can visit her distant family. The road to the apocalypse begins platonic in nature for the two, but as they see the world losing its wits, it evolves into empathy and love. Admittedly, the evolution of such a surprising romance doesn’t feel entirely true until the film’s striking ending.

The screenplay, written by Lorene Scafaria, who also makes her directorial debut, isn’t potent enough to convince us that a free-spirited woman in Penny would be intensely romantic with the reserved Dodge. Sure, the dwindling time allowed to our characters is enough for them to be desperate enough to have sex, which paves the way to a great comedic scene, but it’s not enough to drive home an expedited love. When it comes to that, Carell and Knightley do all the heavy lifting. The uninhibited nature of Knightley’s Penny is absolutely delightful. Her optimistic glow, which radiates profoundly in a time where people hire assassins to circumvent death by their own hand, is enough to get anyone through the blues. Carell, who almost acts as a straight man to Knightley, provides a more nuanced performance. He isn’t offered a big scene, but his subtlety allows for Dodge’s pain and eventual rebirth to exist when insanity surmounts rational thought and fear conquers love. Together, Carell and Knightley make for a charming pair as their characters intersect with a colorful cavalcade of humans who are peacefully moving forward or are emotionally reeling.

The latter is hilariously demonstrated when our pair of protagonists make a stop at a restaurant named Friendsy’s, a place where the workers over exemplify the restaurant’s namesake.  Counter punching the uproarious aforementioned scene are grim moments peppered throughout, most of which revolve around failed and successful suicides. Thankfully, Scafaria’s screenplay and direction don’t force the film’s pacing into a race against time. Instead, it allows our characters to savor their final inelastic minutes and their final human encounters. Even though all the stops made by Penny and Dodge aren’t entirely organic, they’re still full of emotionally resonant moments and off kilter laughs. I may not completely buy Penny and Dodge as destined lovers, but Scafaria convinced me that they’re companions worth cherishing in life’s waning moments.


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