When it comes to the end of the world, Hollywood movies have heightened our expectations for an apocalypse full of surround sound and digital fury. But what of the doomsday that's merely a date on the calendar, something that spurs humans to finally tackle their bucket lists or reveal their true selves? Lars von Trier tried something on this order with last year's much-debated Melancholia. Now, with Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, it's writer/director Lorene Scarfaria's turn at the apocalyptic derby.
Scarfaria uses the occasion of the world's imminent demise as the motivator for a romcom road trip. Steve Carell plays Dodge, a buttoned-down insurance salesman whose wife (played by Carell's real-life wife, Nancy) leaves him in the film's opening scene in order to live out her last days without him. Dodge finds Penny (Keira Knightley) bawling on their apartment building's fire escape because she missed the last flight out of New York to reunite with her family in England. From there on out, Seeking a Friend is an opposites-attract romantic comedy that suggests it's far better to die in the arms of someone you love than to die alone.
Before all the romantic folderol gets under way, however, the movie is at its best as it sketches out various attitudes toward the end of days and takes some narrative left turns - before settling into predictability.
Dodge's friends seize the opportunity to mainline heroin and engage in orgiastic sex sans the complications of addiction, STDs and pregnancy. Sorrow and madness fuel the masses, but when rioting breaks out, Dodge and Penny embark on a trip to ostensibly find Dodge's long-lost love of his youth, as well as a man he knows with a plane that might be able to fly Penny home.
One of the great things Scarfaria brings to this project is her apparent ability to convince a slew of wonderful actors to perform in small roles that appear in only a single sequence. That describes most of the actors (Martin Sheen, Patton Oswalt, Adam Brody...) in this film apart from the two leads.
Scarfaria, whose biggest previous credit is the screenplay adaptation of Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, gets her first shot at directing with Seeking a Friend. Both films share plot devices: constant car travel, music fetishism. Penny grabs her favorite vinyl before escaping NYC, although the John Cale records she makes a point of taking are, regrettably, never heard on the soundtrack.
Vacillating between unpredictability and ordinariness, Seeking a Friend doesn't exactly go out with a whimper. But a little more vitality wouldn't hurt.