At last, a romantic comedy for those of us who hate romantic comedies, as well as movie that finally takes a more upbeat approach to the apocalypse. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World doesn’t build towards a forced fairy tale conclusion, rather it sticks to its disillusioned guns and delivers something more true. Then it blows up the planet.
As the story begins, the planet has three weeks left before a cosmic collision will wipe out humanity. Ending significantly sooner is the marriage of Dodge (Steve Carrell), a nonentity of a man with no kids, a father with whom he hasn’t spoken in 25 years, and a truly dead-end job. (Believe it or not, nobody wants to buy insurance during the apocalypse. Even if you do get lucky, how the hell do you collect?)
While his frees are living out their last days indulging in unfettered hedonism — a party at a friend’s house devolves into a drug-fueled orgy shortly after dinner — Dodge decides to take a chance while he still can, and sets out to reconnect with a high school sweetheart, the proverbial one who got away.
Enter Penny (Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method), Dodge’s free-spirited, narcoleptic neighbor. A self-described serial monogamist with her own regrets, who wants to see her family in the UK one last time. Cue the road trip, and wackiness, romance, and gratuitous cameo appearances ensue.
It’s not as cloyingly, wrist-chewingly cute as it sounds, although writer-director Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist) does throw in a few too many clichés: Dodge acquires an adorable stray mutt whose presence amounts to very little, Penny is another in a lengthening line of quirky wise-beyond-her-years ingénues, et cetera. It helps that the actors are given room to do their own thing; as in Little Miss Sunshine, Carrell plays it low-key to great effect (although the sad-sack thing is wearing out), and Knightley proves well suited for comedy, something we rarely see her in.
Scafaria delivers what the title promises — two souls seeking a little meaningful human contact while they still can — and maintains the right degree of absurdity without slipping into cheap, convenient plotting or unbelievable happy ending. It’s bittersweet and, in its own weird way, kind of beautiful.