Q&A time. An asteroid is headed toward earth. You’ve got 21 days, give or take, until the End Of The World. Thus, rioting has broken out, and now the rioting has moved onto your street and outside the window of your apartment. Thus, you shimmy down the fire escape and through the window of The Convivial (she’s not quite manic) Pixie Dream Girl you have only recently met to wake her up to help her escape and because you only have precious seconds to flee she only has precious seconds to choose what to take. So, what do YOU think she should take? Food and water? A gun and ammo? A flashlight and batteries? Nope. She doesn’t take any of that pointless crap. She takes her favorite records (regardless of whether she’ll be anywhere near a record player). If you scoff, perhaps Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World isn’t the apocalypse movie for you. If you swoon, it is. Regardless of what Melancholia’s Justine might claim, she doesn’t know things. The world isn’t completely evil and I will grieve for it.
Writer/Director Lorene Scafaria’s Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World takes Armageddon’s premise and twists it. The space shuttle sent to ward off the asteroid (presumably by Harry Stamper’s inferior cousin) has failed. Dodge (Steve Carrell) listens to this on the radio of his car with his wife (Nancy Walls). She gets out and runs away, apparently to be with the man she really loved. Life goes on for Dodge and for others – including his maid who dutifully shows up with a smile despite her impending demise – and this is a nifty little commentary on what I would suspect is the way a routine is all many would have to combat something so unthinkable. Indeed, the opening passages are a slyly funny (and fairly dark) send-up of your usual end of the world movie shenanigans. But then something happens……to Dodge’s car. You’ll know it when you see it. And in an instant, the movie gets real.
Well, not necessarily “real”. Truth is, the opening passages are probably more “real” than the rest of the movie. But what would YOUR reality be when the world is ending? Would you loot? Would you take up heroin? Would you construct an underground bunker? Would you build a teepee of sticks as a coffin? Or would you go after “the one who got away”?
Dodge’s friends – who choose to treat the unavoidable doom by turning life into a gigantic Key Party – try to hook him up with someone, anyone. He’s not having it. At the Key Party he escapes to the tub (a la Melancholia’s Justine). He’s an introvert. Trust me. It takes one to know one. (The visit to Friendsy’s – which is sort of T.G.I. Friday’s on speed – is nightmarishly side-splitting.) Sure he doesn’t want to die alone but he’s too romantic (stubborn? idealistic?) to want to die with someone he doesn’t particularly like. That’s when he kinda meets cute with Penny (Keira Knightley), The Convivial Pixie Dream Girl, with the radiant short-top Converse and dress filled with as much whimsy as sex-appeal, who agrees to ferry him after “the one who got away” after he makes mention of knowing someone with a plane who can get her to back to her family before the asteroid hits.
Thus, they take to the road It Happened One Night-style (the Walls of Jericho scene is marvelously recast in a jail cell), banter more than bicker, and endure stops and re-starts that admittedly range in effectiveness, before appearing to culminate with a kind of ode to Casablanca – not just in the shot but in the way it places Dodge in the position of having to choose between the nobler of two good things underneath this depressing umbrella. And his decision means that in the end it’s her decision, too. In other words, she’s not just there for him, she’s there with him, and thereby transcends her Convivial Pixie Dream Girl roots.
The classical references are not just for show. This is a very classical-feeling film, what with the way it generally chooses to ignore the escalating situation of the larger world around them as that same world goes up against its end of days to instead focus almost entirely on the relationship of its two main characters. And this only illuminates the film’s overriding theme – that their old fashioned love song is how they choose to cope.
The knock often laid against these sorts of films is that the protagonist can only be cured of what ails him/her via the cataclysm, but this criticism ignores the way people tend to compartmentalize in the face of the unfaceable. Do you remember in Last of the Mohicans when Cora says “the whole world is on fire”? Do you remember what Cora and Hawkeye do in the face of the whole world being on fire, in the face of the French shelling the British fort to figurative smithereens? They find a place in the fort away from everybody else and make out. Essentially they push the world away to find solace in each other.
The possibly creepy truck driver (William Peterson) that gives them a ride at one point claims it’s not natural for a person to know when they are going to die. But, in the end, Dodge and Penny treat this debilitating knowledge as a blessing.
NOTE: I AM NOT GIVING THIS FILM A GRADE. THIS MIGHT BE A COP-OUT AND THIS IS NOT TO SUGGEST IT’S AN A+ OR ANYTHING BECAUSE IT’S GOT FLAWS, SURE, BUT I CHERISHED THIS FILM AND JUST WANT IT TO EXIST IN MY MIND ON ITS OWN TERMS. THANK YOU.