Universal // 2012 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // October 30th, 2012
Nice knowing you.
So, let me get this straight -- a romantic comedy road movie about the end of the world wasn't a huge hit at the box office?
Steve Carell (Date Night) stars as Dodge, whose wife (Carell's real wife Nancy Walls) runs out on him when the news hits that a final attempt at preventing an asteroid from colliding with Earth has failed and that everyone on the planet has only a few weeks left before everything is obliterated. Dodge's initial reaction is to just keep acting as if it's business as usual: he continues going to work as an insurance salesman. His housecleaner still comes by once a week, despite his efforts to dissuade her. Dodge's life has already been in such a state of hollow repetition that even the end of the world can't shake him from his funk.
It's not until he strikes up a conversation with Penny (Keira Knightley, Domino), his quirky downstairs neighbor, that Dodge starts to believe he has any reason left to live. It seems his first girlfriend -- the "one that got away" -- wrote him a letter months back, and with Dodge being newly single (and the world ending), the opportunity has finally presented itself for them to reconnect. Dodge and Penny strike out on the road together to track down his lost love and to get her home to see her family in England, encountering every type of person and reaction to Armageddon imaginable. The Evidence
So many of Steve Carell's big-screen movie roles require him to play some variation on the sad-sack mope. It's refreshing, then, that Lorene Scafaria's end-of-the-world road comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World finally gives him something real to mope about. It's not just a midlife crisis. It's not just the dissolution of his marriage. It's the apocalypse.
It's no wonder the movie bombed when it was released in the summer. Those are the months when audiences want any movie about potential Armageddon to actually be Armageddon. If the threat of total destruction looms, we'd rather follow the deep core drillers who are going to save us, not the ordinary people who are dealing with imminent death and figuring out how to live out the very last days on Earth. That's what Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is all about -- the ways in which we confront our certain end. Yes, it does that through the prism of a traditional Hollywood romantic comedy, but that doesn't discount the humanity that first-time director Scafaria (who previously adapted the screenplay for Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist) is able to find throughout the movie. Dodge and Penny encounter all kinds of people along their journey out of the city, and while it gives the movie an episodic structure, it also affords the film the chance to explore a wide range of reactions to the news.
It's in these survivor encounters that the movie finds many of its laughs -- and, yes, for a movie about the End of Days, Seeking a Friend is very funny. Scafaria is very clever in the way she explores all kinds of different human responses: one man hires a hitman to take him out. Another just jumps from a building. A group of Dodge's friends throw a party and do all the things they never had a chance to do, whether it's sleeping with new partners or trying heroin for the first time ("Bucket list!"). A big part of the reason these scenes are so funny is because Scafaria has populated many of the supporting roles with comedians and character actors, from Rob Huebel as one of Carell's co-workers (though most of his role appears to have been cut out) to Amy Schumer as a party guest to Rob Corddry as the guy throwing the party, basically playing the typical Rob Corddry a-hole character. Patton Oswalt practically steals the entire movie as a drunk guest who delivers a monologue about how the news of the world ending has increased the dating pool. T.J. Miller pops up in a very funny sequence as a waiter at Friendly's, a T.G.I. Fridays-style restaurant, whose staff has decided to remain open, mostly so they can turn it into a non-stop orgy. Practically every scene in the movie features a guest star whose appearance is welcome and delightful. The supporting cast also helps hold up the two leads, who are sweet but familiar. Carell, in particular, is fine in the lead, even though he's not doing anything that he hasn't done on film several times before. And while Knightley is playing a variation on what Nathan Rabin coined as the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl," it's nice to see her outside of a stodgy costume drama. She's warm and adorable instead of proper and corseted.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World isn't really an out-and-out comedy, though. The moments that are funny are so because Scafaria has wisely chosen to play the absurdity of the scenario, but she doesn't shy away from the sadness, either. It can't really be all laughs when all life is going to disappear. Scafaria doesn't back away from the implications of the story she has chosen to tell, but, at the same time, the movie isn't entirely about its 'end of the world' plot hook. The end of the world acts as a metaphor -- a catalyst to remind the audience just how little time we have with our families, with our friends, with the ones we love. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a bittersweet reminder that our time together is far too short. It's even shorter when an asteroid is coming.
Universal's Blu-ray of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is great on a technical level, from the warm and bright 2.35:1 widescreen image (in full 1080p HD, as though that still needs to be said) that showcases great detail and strong contrast. The DTS-HD master audio track is pretty terrific, too, handling the dialogue that makes up the majority of the movie very well while still paying appropriate service to the background news reports and gradually building chaos lurking just outside. It's not a flashy track by any means, but it's very effective. Where the disc disappoints somewhat is in the special features department: there are two very brief featurettes (one a standard EPK-style "making of" piece, the other focusing on the music) and a gag reel that's never all that funny. The best extra feature is a commentary featuring Scafaria, her mother, producer Joy Gorman and actors Adam Brody and Patton Oswalt. The latter's participation alone makes this worth listening to, even though it takes him a while to get going. Once he begins chiming in, though, the track perks up and becomes very entertaining. He should talk over every movie.
Also included are a standard DVD copy, a digital copy and an Ultraviolet copy of the movie.
I liked Seeking a Friend for the End of the World when I saw it in theaters this summer, but suspected that I got caught up in some of the big emotions and that a second viewing might reveal it to be a mess. And it is problematic: it's episodic and it's manipulative. It's also genuinely moving and very human in its concerns. It's easy to understand why it wasn't a hit, and why it put off so many of the people who actually did see it. The movie has the courage of its convictions, and audience members looking for a happy ending are so hung up on the "ending" that they overlook the "happy." It's all a matter of perspective.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Gag Reel
* DVD Copy
* UltraViolet Download
* Official Site