Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Focus Features, R)

seekingfriend sqThe end-of-the-world scenario is far from fully realized, everything is either predictable or entirely unbelievable (or both), and, on the whole, the film tries too hard to be cutesy and likeable and twee.

 

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In most ways, Lorene Scafaria’s new film Seeking a Friend for the End of the World seems like it will mean a lot to a certain brand of people between the ages of about 14 and 17, where the rest of us will see it for what it is: a film that’s been done a million times before, and much, much better than this. Still, becoming a fan favorite of the teen bracket isn’t such a bad fate, though Seeking a Friend might have trouble finding its audience, given its R rating.

Scafaria seems to have a teenaged sensibility; she’s best known at this point for writing the screenplay for 2008’s not bad Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Here, she’s a lot more ambitious (and in the director’s chair, too). The premise of Seeking a Friend is that everyone’s favorite sad sack, Steve Carell (here playing a character named Dodge), is trying to get his life back together in the next three weeks. His wife just left him, his job’s a joke, and he can’t seem to connect with any of his old friends nor make any new ones. That three-week deadline is a result of a pending asteroid’s collision with Earth, at which time the world will end, as the film’s title implies.

The bulk of the movie is actually a sort of road/buddy movie. Dodge takes up with his neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), and they go on a road trip together to reunite Dodge with his long-lost love. As one would expect, along the way, Dodge and Penny stumble into a romance of their own, so this is a fairly extreme case of the journey being more important than the destination.

Therein lies a disappointment about this movie. Steve Carell, much more so than any other Hollywood actor his age in recent memory, is usually paired with age-appropriate actresses as love interests (see Catherine Keener in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Juliette Binoche in Dan in Real Life, or Julianne Moore in Crazy Stupid Love for examples. Or, hell, even Amy Ryan on The Office.) So while it ultimately isn’t surprising that he be matched with someone like Knightley (who is 22 years younger than Carell in real life), it’s disappointing to see the trend come to a conclusion.

Elsewhere, Seeking a Friend is one of those movies where brief, throwaway roles are filled with familiar faces, much like the 2010 Carell vehicle Date Night was (and in which his romantic interest was Tina Fey, another age-appropriate choice, it’s worth noting). Here, you’ll spot Young Adult’s Patton Oswalt as a party attendee, Community’s Gillian Jacobs as a waitress, and Parks & Recreation’s Jim O’Heir as a police officer, among others. I actually liked Seeking a Friend more than the reprehensibly bad Date Night overall, but that film used its cameos better than Friend does—here, everyone pretty much just feels wasted.

As does your time, by the end of it. The end-of-the-world scenario is far from fully realized, everything is either predictable or entirely unbelievable (or both), and, on the whole, the film tries too hard to be cutesy and likeable and twee. And like I said, there are just a whole lot of films like this one. While the most prominent in recent memory, 2011’s Melancholia, has an entirely different tone and goal, check out, say, Don McKeller’s 1998 film Last Night for a similar (but much better) take on this type of material. | Pete Timmermann

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