Thursday, July 5, 2012

An Adventure Worthy of the Apocalypse: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Usually I’m far behind the curve on watching the movies I want to see (for example, I only recently saw a movie I wanted to see back in 2004!), so surprisingly I can actually write about a somewhat recent release. This evening I got the pleasure of viewing Seeking a Friend for the End of the World while it’s still out in theaters.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is set in the real-world of today across three states (New York, New Jersey, and Delaware). There’s only one twist – in this world, an asteroid is set to hit Earth in a few weeks and the last hope for stopping it has just failed massively. With this news in mind, Linda literally walks out on her husband Dodge (Steve Carell) without another word. Not sure what to do with the rest of his days on Earth, Dodge dutifully goes to work and then aimlessly sits about his apartment. That is, until he finds his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) weeping outside his window on the shared fire escape one night. When rioters begin taking to the streets and inciting violence outside their apartment building, Dodge grabs his newly acquired dog, Sorry, and Penny to escape. Once on the road, they decide to search for Dodge’s ex-girlfriend Olivia and various adventures occur along the way.

I was intrigued by the concept of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World when I began seeing previews for it and further enticed when Keira Knightley came on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to promote the movie. I’ve generally liked Keira Knightley in the various roles she’s played in the past, and I’ve been entertained by Steve Carell in the few movies I’ve seen him in, so I thought this would be a good bet.

Setting a comedy amongst the despair and chaos that is the last few weeks of humanity is a bold move, but one that pays off in my opinion. There’s definitely a lot of humor in this movie – especially a lot of dark humor, given the nature of the situation the characters find themselves in. People’s reactions to the end of the world vary from the tragic (suicides) to the wild (parties that turn into drug-induced orgies) to the survivalist (an underground bunker outfitted with up to six months of gear). No matter what route people take though, this movie finds a way poke fun at it and still somehow get a chuckle out of the absurdity of the situation. The movie is also packed with some situational comedy, running jokes, and snappy quips, all contributing to the comedic effect. (One of my favorite quips was about how hybrid cars still need gas to run.)

Some of the comedy also comes from the very disparate character traits of Dodge and Penny. Dodge is a straight-laced insurance salesman and a very by-the-books kind of guy in every aspect of his life, who (despite his assertion otherwise) is very sympathetic and caring towards just about every living thing around him. Penny is more of a free spirit, who "dabbles" for a living and tries to sweet talk her way out of traffic violations. She is constantly moving from relationship to relationship, suffers from hypersomnia so smokes weed to supposedly combat it, and is apparently always running late for everything.  Throwing these two characters together would make any movie funny, but adding in the road trip from hell against the backdrop of the end of days is comedy gold.

While certainly amusing, these characters also felt a bit too much like typical movie tropes - the ho-hum everyman character we've seen often (i.e., Steve Carell in Dan in Real Life or Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction) and the quirky but ultimately charming woman who gives him a new perspective (i.e., Maggie Gyllenhaal in Stranger than Fiction or Zooey Deschanel in just about everything she's ever been in). All that needs updating is some basic facts of Everyman's background (never married, divorced, or widowed?) and swapping out one quirk for another for the vivacious lady. For Penny, her major quirks include collecting vinyl records and saving up piles of her neighbors' mail that mistakenly end up in her inbox instead of handing them over.

Despite all the comedic scenes, I was also surprised (and perhaps shouldn’t have been considering the premise) to find a lot of endearing and touching moments scattered throughout the movie, especially as the doomsday clock ticked nearer to its end. Without being too heavy-handed or preachy, the movie definitely had moments that give the viewer pause to chew some food for thought and consider what's important in their lives. For instance, at one point, Dodge and Penny discuss what they will miss and what they will not miss about life, thereby also subtly tasking the viewers to do the same and contemplate what they would prioritize if the world were to end in a few weeks' time. In addition, there's a fair amount of romantic leanings to the plot, which for the most part stayed away from becoming overly cheesy. In many ways, this movie defies easy categorization because it borrows elements from so many different genres.

Indeed, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is not your garden variety movie. While there were a couple of plot points that were predictable, for the most part I found myself wondering where the movie would go next. This is usually a good thing, as predictable movies become dull fast and I prefer to be kept on my toes. Given the bind the writers/creators put themselves in by setting a mostly humorous movie at the eve of the apocalypse, I kept trying to figure out how they were going to come up with a satisfying conclusion. I’m not posting any specific spoilers here, but I will say that the entire movie theater audience appeared stunned at the ending.

Still, all in all, I found this movie very enjoyable and would recommend it if you like your humor dark and your movies anything but standard. The acting was superb, the soundtrack brilliant, and the story unique. What more could you ask for in a movie?

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