Dodge and his wife Linda sit in a parked car, listening to the broadcast that will seal the fate of the entire planet. The announcer regretfully informs the public that the spaceship Deliverance, humanity’s last-ditch attempt to blast apart an enormous asteroid headed for Earth, has itself exploded. The world will officially end in about three weeks.
“I think we missed the exit,” Dodge says.
So begins Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, an assured directorial debut from screenwriter Lorene Scafaria, who has miraculously found a poignant balance between romantic comedy and the apocalyptic genre. Steve Carell’s portrayal of Dodge overflows with that special pathos of the pathetic, a quality Carell has certainly mined before. But Dodge is not the kind of loser you might expect: when he says, with Carell’s precise comedic timing, that he “regrets his entire life,” it’s clear that he’s always been aware there is another, better way to live. He’s just never been able to teach it to himself. But with his wife absconding with her lover no sooner than the countdown to Doomsday begins, will there ever be a better opportunity than now?
Enter Penny (Keira Knightley), Dodge’s neighbor. A classic manic-pixie-dream-girl, Penny has managed, through her intrinsic flakiness, to miss the last flight to England to be with her family. That a bland, middle-aged insurance salesman like Dodge pairs up for adventure with a young, flighty ingénue like Penny is admittedly dripping with convention. But Scafaria carefully places little revelatory time bombs into each character to break apart the audience’s expectations, and uncannily, she has a way of exploding them at exactly the point when such expectations are forming. It’s a real “get out of my brain” experience.
Dodge and Penny are not the only strong characters in Seeking: the film is bursting with stellar comedic performances, each their own meditation on apocalyptic coping mechanisms. Adam Brody, who plays Penny’s recently ex’d boyfriend, expresses his desire to protect her from an urban riot, only to use her as a human shield the moment he hears gunshots. Gillian Jacobs' reckless, joyous abandon becomes as entrancing to the audience as the penultimate world is to her. Rob Corddry encourages his children to, “fight through the burn,” as they chug hard liquor: sure, it’s played for laughs, but it’s obvious he’s also trying to grant his kids the experience of every stage of life, all crunched into their last three weeks.
And that is Scafaria’s achievement with Seeking: a brilliant conflation of the celebratory with the mournful. I shudder to think how many drafts she must have gone through in order to get this film into such a precise Goldilocks zone, but the important thing is that she did it. Indeed, if the final image of Seeking doesn’t make your heart explode in your chest, then you might want to see a cardiologist to make sure you actually have one. The end of the world is sincerely that great.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World comes out today. Will you see it?