A romantic comedy for people who don’t like rom-coms? That’s how Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is being pitched to the masses, and I’ll tell you, that’s exactly what it isn’t. This is a disaster movie for people who would rather curl up with The Devil Wears Prada than Armageddon; it’s a sweet and wistful look at what might happen if the human race was collectively given three weeks to live, and two people in the midst of the chaos, just trying to find somewhere to call home.
Its offers an intimate perspective on a huge, global catastrophe, as Steve Carell and Keira Knightly join forces in order to find a suitable place to die. That might sound overly morbid, but is effectively the mission that drives the plot and their relationship throughout. Carell plays his best melancholic anti-Michael Scott character as Dodge, an unexciting insurance salesman who doesn’t quite know how to react to the end of the world. He continues to go to work, though no one else is there, and is taken aback by the decadence on show at his friends’ doomsday party (“we brought heroin!”).
Also living in his apartment building is bohemian hipster Penny (Keira Knightly) and her boyfriend, played by an always funny Adam Brody. Once circumstances align and they both find themselves dodging a full-scale riot, Penny and Dodge embark on a road-trip, in search of his first love and a way back to England for her. From here, the film settles into a familiarly-structured road-trip, in which the couple grow closer and begin to enjoy the journey, despite the destination. It’s a slow-paced wander through the apocalypse, rather than a manic dash for their desired goals, and it’s genuinely nice to watch companionship grow in the middle of all the gallows humours and impending inevitability.
But it’s still a rom-com, and the doom over the horizon in simply a plot-device making it infinitely easier to comment on the meaning of life, love, and relationships. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this and, once the romance kicks in, viewers will either be on-board completely or fatally put off by the obviously mismatched pairing. It’s not as nausea-inducing as one might think, and director Lorene Scafaria exudes the same aptitude for building slow, believable partnerships as she did in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. People all throughout Seeking a Friend act in strange and bizarre ways, but I guess all bets are off when you’ve only got three weeks to live.
Some will prefer the opening stretch of satiric black humour, which economically visits various different and hilarious reactions to the end of days. Thankfully, the little details have been thought through, with bitingly funny asides that include ‘The Best of Humanity: Jesus & Oprah’ lists and newscasters losing the plot. Some of it even manages to be mildly shocking, but everyone reacts in a way that seems strikingly human, a vital factor when combining such combustible genres. Not everything hits the right notes, and the film gets arguably starts meandering in its third act, but the prescribed bitter-sweet ending is powerful enough to make up for it.
Seeking a Friend at the End of the World is centred around a simple idea that’s tricky to pull off. But this is a film that manages to be side-splittingly funny, heartbreakingly poignant and tenderly honest all at the same time, and must be doing something right. It’s a mish-mash of opposing genres that just might have created something fresh, and, despite some glaring flaws and missed opportunities, Carell and Knightly admirably carry us along on their trip to the world’s end.