Last week, I took time to praise 1989’s apocalyptic thriller Miracle Mile. So dark, so edgy, so depressing, why not find something lighter in the realm of “End of the World Cinema?” Yes, it does exist in the form of 2012’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. From writer-director Lorene Scafaria comes this heartfelt view of the “end of days” that is equal parts whimsy, terror, curiosity, humanity, with outrageous laughs and well-earned tears.
The film stars Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley in a pair of winning performances. As the film starts, we learn that an asteroid is heading towards Earth (without Bruce Willis to stop it this time) and the planet will be decimated in a matter of weeks. Steve Carell’s Dodge has just been dumped by his long unfaithful wife (played by Carell’s real-life wife Nancy). He makes the acquaintance of Keira Knightley’s Penny, as a nosy neighbor who convinces him to track down his first love. The unlikely duo hit the road and find their fair share of characters as we get the complete antithesis to the dread of last week’s Miracle Mile. There’s plenty of goofiness on hand which includes a house party where the kids are permitted to truly embrace the coming Armageddon via chemical enhancement, a trip to a TGI Friday’s-style restaurant where the waitstaff may or may not be on acid, and the blind loyalty of Carell’s housekeeper.
I don’t know if there’s another actor better at portraying the socially awkward idiot and lovable sad sack than Steve Carell. Those who skipped Seeking a Friend… because it appeared that Carell was just doing a familiar riff on earlier work in The 40 Year Old Virgin, Dan in Real Life, and Crazy/Stupid/Love definitely missed out. The film is buoyed by his soulful performance. Keira Knightley transforms the prototypical “dream girl” role into a 3-D character that both Carell and the audience can care about.
The film also includes a pair of cameos that were thankfully not spoiled for me back in 2012 and I will not spoil them now because there are both gems. Cameo 1 is from a longtime film and TV actor who is know best known for a long time TV crime drama. Here he plays a man who is trying to control his own fate by hiring a hitman to end his pain….until he chickens out. Cameo 1 is one of many levity-inducing devices of the film. Cameo 2 comes courtesy of a true icon, of both film and TV, who plays Carell’s long-lost father. The scene between Cameo 2 and Carell has little dialogue but is filled with so much hurt and honesty, it brings surprising gravitas to the film.
And bless Writer-Director Lorene Scafaria for following through on the film’s premise and not copping out with a last second save. The world does end in a beautiful and tragic last shot. Seeking a Friend… creates an apocalypse to look forward to and embrace. It’s a real treasure.