The last hope to save mankind has failed and there are exactly three weeks left before the world will be destroyed by an 70-mile wide asteroid named Matilda. Dodge Peterson (Steve Carell) just wants to keep living his normal life, but how can he when his wife Linda (a blink-or-miss cameo from Nancy Carell, Steve’s real-life wife) literally jumps ship as soon as the news comes in? He tries to act like everything is normal, but even that’s impossible, and an attempted suicide only ends up pairing him with a cute dog to accompany his final days.
Just as everything seems to be at its worst, Dodge forges an unlikely friendship with Penny (Keira Knightley), a free spirit who has been receiving his mail for the better part of the last year. When he goes through that mail, he finds a letter from Olivia, the first girl who got away from him. Thinking that there might be a glimmer of hope of last-minute happiness in store, he’s able to talk Penny into going with him, promising her a plane so she can go overseas to see her parents (All commercial airlines and phone lines ceased operation a few days before).
On the road, Dodge and Penny form an unlikely relationship that is slow to grow, all the while encountering a number of crazy individuals (including William Petersen and T.J. Miller). The bond grows into an unlikely case of possible love, but Dodge isn’t sure if she’s the solution to all of his problems.
There have been many movies that have touched on the end of the world, but like Melancholia, this is another that touches on the humanity of the genre. As free as many of these people want to be, in the end all that matters is who you are with in the final moments of your life. Of course, the road they travel is paved with surprises along the way. From all-night orgies, to riots, to a restaurant that is a little too happy to celebrate the ending of the world, to an ex-boyfriend of Penny’s (Derek Luke) who thinks that he and his friends can somehow survive the impact of the asteroid.
The appearances by the likes of Rob Corrdry, Patton Oswalt, Connie Britton, and Melanie Lynsky are brief, but all of them have their shining moment. Sure, we never see them again, but that’s kind of the point. The movie is focused on Carell and Knightley, and when they are alone together, they are baring their souls to each other. These are two truly extraordinary performances that show the amazing chemistry that they have. Although this is technically a romantic comedy, the film doesn’t play by the ordinary rules of the genre.
The best supporting performance of the movie comes from Martin Sheen. It’s a surprisingly infectious performance that not only gives Dodge a final catharsis to deal with toward the end of the film, but shows a final resolution that needed to be made in his life. The last section of this sequence, set to “The Air I Breathe” by The Hollies, is one of the film’s most beautiful.
The film was written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (above), who wrote Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. While I can’t quite decide if this film is better than that one, I can say that the film succeeds on its own terms. Any filmmaker that uses “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” by The Walker Brothers knows precisely what it would feel like if the world were ending.
As funny as the start of the film is, its seriousness is integral to the final product. Beautifully mixing comedy and drama, Scafaria, Carell, and Knightley have created a different kind of apocalyptic tale. Seeking a Friend For the End of the World is one of the year’s most endearing surprises. This is for those who found Dan in Real Life to be terrific entertainment. In a film filled with such beauty and humanity, it’s my hope that it’s a pleasant surprise to the people who usually love Steve Carell for his hilarity over his heart.