IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 101 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A seventy mile-wide asteroid named Matilda is on a collision course with Earth and a last ditch effort to destroy it has failed. The world only has three weeks until impact, at which time all of humanity will be wiped out. Dodge, an insurance salesman, has just had his wife commit suicide. All over, people react in varying ways, from drugs to promiscuity to rioting. Dodge unsuccessfully tries to kill himself with window cleaner and befriends his neighbour Penny who has just kicked her boyfriend out. After reminiscing about his childhood sweetheart Olivia, Penny gives Dodge a letter she received for him but kept forgetting to deliver. Dodge is surprised to learn it is actually from Olivia. In the middle of the night, a riot breaks out. Needing to escape, Dodge tells Penny he knows someone with a plane who could get her to England if she helps him get to Olivia first……
It’s certainly a very romantic concept. Going to search for the one who got away many years ago. It’s also a concept often done in film; not that far ago, the surprisingly good Letters To Juliet used a nice variation on the idea. However, add that to the End Of The World, and you have a really involving and touching film, don’t you? Well, that’s obviously what writer and director Lorene Scafaria thought, the same Lorene Scafaria who wrote the rather charming Nick And Nora’s Infinite Playlist, with which this movie shares many similarities with. Actually, the picture doesn’t entirely work. Whilst watching it, I felt that it didn’t really need the ‘end of the world’ scenario. Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, which at times seems like a more ‘commercial’ Melancholia and is burdened with an awful title, has had a mixed response and I can entirely understand why, because it’s half a good film and half a poor one. I guess it’s also because some folk buy into extreme and even maudlin sentimentality, and some don’t. I bought into the film in bits and pieces, but every now and again felt it should have just been a whole lot better.
The early scenes are certainly promising. We learn that an attempt to save the Earth has failed, which immediately conjures up images of Armageddon ending with our heroes failing in their task, the way that I feel it should have ended. No, instead, this is closer to Deep Impact, or closer still to Knowing. We are going to be entirely obliterated and there is nothing we can do about it. There’s some nice dark humour in these early scenes, such as Dodge at a staff meeting where promotions are being handed out in large numbers but nobody wants to take them. The way people react to the coming catastrophe certainly seems realistic. Suicide, sleeping around, drugs, rioting, carrying on as normal, even just brooding, like Dodge, because there’s just no point to it all. It certainly conjures up thoughts of what you would do. Me, I’ll probably party like there was no tomorrow [literally]. All this is rather interesting but this film ignores much of this when Dodge and Penny escape a riot and go on their road trip. Everything just seems….well….too relaxed and ‘nice’. At times I forgot the world was going to end.
Now this would have been fine if one bought into the central love story, but sadly I didn’t. Keira Knightley, looking decidedly less glamorous than normal, and Steve Carrell, really proving himself in a serious role, are convincing as their characters, but have little chemistry and are unable to convey why they fall for each other. This is in spite of a few scenes which are genuinely sweet, such as the separate times where both Dodge and Penny are falling for the other person, something they beautifully convey in their faces. Not everything feels right, such as when, early on, Dodge and Penny have, as she calls it, “end of the world sex”, something I don’t feel Dodge would have participated in. The quest to find Olivia takes in a few encounters with disparate folk, such as a cop who still likes to arrest and jail people, a man who thinks Dodge is the assassin he paid to come and kill him [some nice sharp black humour here], an ex of Penny’s who lives in a reinforced bunker and intends to survive, and finally Dodge’s father, in a rather moving scene with a great little unbilled performance from a Hollywood veteran. It also ends unpredictably, and I’ll give the movie credit for that.
Much of the film seems too upbeat for its subject- obviously they wanted to avoid the usual stuff and warm your heart, as it were, but it just feels a little wrong. The score is too light, though a few songs are used very well and, as with Nick And Nora, popular music plays a prominent part. I’ve spent much of this review criticising this movie, and yet have to admit there were time when if did work for me, hence the perhaps too high star rating. I can be a soppy sod in films, and there were three times I really felt the emotion it was trying to convey and cried. In that respect, I can say that Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, which is not ashamed of wearing its heart on its sleeve, did its job some of the time. What a shame it didn’t really do it throughout. You have to love a film though where the woman says to the man, on first meeting, as she climbs through his window, “I won’t steal anything if you don’t rape me.” I have a feeling that this is one film which will grow on me.