As the movie starts, Dodge (Carell) is sitting in the car with his wife, Linda (Nancy Carell), listening to a radio newsbreak informing the world that a space shuttle mission to change the course of an asteroid headed to Earth has failed and the asteroid is now scheduled to hit in a little less than a month, destroying all life on the planet. Linda takes this moment to end their marriage by simply getting out of the car and running away. Dodge, stunned perhaps as much by the sudden end of his marriage as he is by the forthcoming end of the world, stumbles through his life, joining a handful of people at the insurance company where he works in showing up to the office. (A manager holds a meeting with a dozen or so people, asking if anyone wants to fill some of the vacated spots, such as, for example, CFO.) He attends a party at a friend’s house where the guests shoot heroin, kids run through the house with sparklers and drink cocktails, and hook-ups are made with abandon. Dodge takes no joy in this hedonism. Later, when he finds out that not only has his wife left him but she had a boyfriend, he winds up in a park, alone, drinking glass cleaner.
When he wakes up, however, he finds someone has left their dog with him. “Sorry,” the note says, so he calls the dog Sorry. And, he becomes friends with Penny (Keira Knightley), a woman from a neighboring apartment in his building. He sees her on the fire escape, crying because she’s realized she won’t be able to make it back to England to see her family (all the planes have stopped flying) and perhaps a little bit because she has just broken up with her boyfriend Owen (Adam Brody). After a riot causes Dodge, Penny and Sorry to flee the city, they decide to set off on a little road trip. Dodge plans to go in search of Olivia, a former flame, and Penny joins him in hopes of finding a person he once knew who owns a plane.
So it’s a road movie — a road movie where the backdrop is a society coming apart in strange ways as it approaches its final days. Here they find a cop zealously doing his job for no reason, there they find a Chili’s-like restaurant that has become an ongoing party. And, of course, along the way they become friends.
With different actors, this could have gone so wrong. But Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is bittersweetly romantic, in part because Carell can pull off a kind of Everyman heartbreak like no one else. This reminded me a lot of his performance in Dan in Real Life, which, as with this movie, mixed standard movie comedy with genuine emotion.
And cheers to Keira Knightley for all that her character isn’t — namely, that she isn’t that Manic Pixie Dreamgirl Character that she could have been. She is a woman who is at the very end of the prolonged adolescence that the late twenties can be and now she realizes that she will never have a chance to really grow up (or to even visit what she now realizes is one of the best parts of her life, her family). Knightley plays this with some smarts and a groundedness even though the character has her dizzy moments.
Behind this road movie romance, Seeking a Friend has some fun with its premise. What would people do if they knew they had 21 (and then 14 and then 12) days left on Earth? Can’t fly off to Paris, because getting there (the plane, the airports, the guy who fuels the planes) involves a lot of people doing their jobs and would you be at your job if these were your last three weeks? Would chaos break out? Would it be a constant orgy? Would anxiety cause people to end it all, early? The movie plays with all of these ideas and, instead of giving us government halls and worried scientists, lets that calamity play out in background scenes and snippets from TV broadcasts. Summer is the disaster movie season, and Seeking a Friend both has fun with the genre and thwarts it.
Not explody enough for you? The other side of the Seeking a Friend for the End of the World coin is that its quiet smirk at the apocalypse makes it all the much more terrifying. So come for the comedy and romance, and enjoy terror later on as your brain ponders all the what-ifs. B
Rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is an hour and 41 minutes long and distributed in limited release by Focus Features.