Seeking a Friend for the End of the World takes a quirky journey to nowhere
Starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Rated PG. Opens Friday, June 22, at the Ridge Theatre
The premise of 1961’s The Day the Earth Caught Fire was that a tilt in the planet’s axis (thank you, nuclear weapons!) sent us orbiting toward the sun. What really freaked me out, as a small child watching the Brit-made black-and-white exploitation flick on the big screen, was the pitiless portrayal of total anarchy, right down to beatniks—yes, beatniks—raping women and smashing stuff in the streets.
When an asteroid or small planet—perhaps angry about not getting more roles after Melancholia—comes hurtling toward Earth in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, the response is considerably more sedate. Of course, keeping things going in the face of certain environmental doom is pretty much where we’re at these days, so it’s not such a huge leap to see Steve Carell’s elusively named Dodge still going to work at an insurance job (ha!) after his wife has literally run away and electricity is winding down.
As apocalyptic comedies go, this debut feature from writer-director Lorene Scafaria—best known for writing Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist—has a sharply tuned ear for edgy banter. Dodge’s politely irreverent tug of war with distraught neighbour Penny (Keira Knightley, showing her lighter side) is initially charming. But the tale feels increasingly flat once they hit the road, prompted by a neighbourhood riot that is more Hockey Night in Canada than Clockwork Orange.
They meet quirky folks en route to nowhere, some more amusing than others, and this essentially takes the place of what’s supposed to be growing chemistry between the leads. Sexual menace? Fuggedaboudit. Carell does well in a low-key register as a fellow getting a wake-up call too late, but Penny’s character seems little more than a vehicle for the filmmaker’s pet obsessions. After all, who trots around with Herb Alpert and John Cale LPs and waxes eloquent on the superiority of vinyl just when the world’s lights are about to go out? Besides beatniks, I mean.
Watch the trailer for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.