The end of love: A film review

Carljoe Javier
Focus Features' 'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World'

REFRESHING. 'Seeking a Friend at the End of the World' is a different take on the armageddon film. Image from Focus Features

MANILA, Philippines – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World sees a limited run locally, and it seemed only fitting that I caught it at Glorietta’s Cinema 4, which some might remember as formerly being their Art Film cinema.

It’s that vibe that this end of the world rom-com goes for — indie and offbeat yet hitting very familiar emotional chords with very recognizable faces. 

Built around the developing relationship between neighbors played by Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, the film takes a premise that we’ve seen cropping up often, but far too rarely in the manner that this film chooses. Faced with an apocalyptic event, we’re usually given heroes, bombastic set-ups, big action sequences, and often preposterous solutions.

While these flicks might be effective in tugging at raw, broad emotions (and I’m looking at you, Armageddon and 2012 and all other flicks of your ilk), they come off empty and lacking in true emotion. 

KEIRA KNIGHTLEY is Penny. Image from Focus Features

That’s probably where Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is smartest.

While it takes an apocalyptic event, it takes this world-shattering occasion to examine the life of one man, a decidedly normal and insignificant one. Steve Carell’s Dodge is not only a man who can do nothing about the asteroid about to hit the Earth, but he is a man who hardly has control over his life.

We meet him in the opening scene, where two cold and life-destroying things are introduced: a radio announcement of the failure of a NASA attempt at preventing the asteroid collision, and then Dodge’s wife getting out of the car and running away from him.

It’s these two events that define what he does for the Earth’s remaining days.

FROM NEIGHBORS TO FRIENDS TO... Image from Focus Features

The movie draws our sympathies and wins us over by looking at the mundane life of a man. In effect it allows us to ask ourselves what we would do in a similar situation.

This is where it rises above other Extinction Level Event flicks. We’re not watching heroes fighting to prevent the apocalypse. We’re watching how normal people would deal with the extraordinary situation.

I particularly enjoyed a scene of a party towards the beginning, and two short but great performances by Rob Corddry and Patton Oswalt. These two comedians weren’t given much screen time, but they played out very funny and memorable approaches to the end of the world. 

STEVE CARELL is Dodge. Image from Focus Features

Things pick up when Dodge meets Keira Knightley’s Penny, a girl from his building who has just broken up with what is implied to be the latest in a string of bad boyfriends. Penny teeters on Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory, but Knightley imbues her with depth and gravitas that push her beyond the simple hipster stereotypes (though those show up too, via vinyl and Chucks, but oh well).

Dodge and Penny escape the city and then the two decide to go on a road trip. They go in search of Dodge’s “one that got away.” 

So we have a couple of framing devices here, one is the countdown to extinction, and the other is the road trip adventure, where inevitably we will witness a relationship develop between the two primaries. 

Image from Focus Features

Carell does a good job playing straight man here. You can see him channeling some of his Office persona, while keeping it all contained, human and relatable.

You believe that a boring guy like Dodge could exist, his life could come to this point. When he explains his profession, an insurance salesman, to Penny, we sense regret and longing, but never an indictment or a condescension towards that character.

Carell makes Dodge likable and the kind of guy that you would want to root for.

Knightley does a fantastic job as Penny. She’s got her quirks (and man have characters like hers been played too much for them) but she amounts to much more than that. In fact these are revealed to be coping mechanisms and we are shown a character with more layers than the MPDG stereotype ever mines.

Either that, or I will have to admit to having fallen in love with her character and being totally biased. In any case, I felt like she turned in a winning and memorable performance. And as the journey towards the supposed love of Dodge’ life progresses, I could not help but think, how, how can one not fall in love with this girl?

Image from Focus Features

Seeking a Friend at the End of the World trades in gallows humor. It shows people that their darkest and most cynical. Given the film’s main catalyst, the cataclysmic event, then this is par for the course.

It is often funny; it doesn’t go for broad guffaws, rather it uses the situation and characters to create its humor. But more importantly, and given much more focus, is an optimism and heart that can be found amidst the impending tragedy.

This is probably where the line will be drawn between the people who will like it and won’t. This film is unabashedly romantic and dripping with saccharine.

The cynical won’t buy it, because admittedly there are some developments here are hard to swallow.

The romantics though — and I have to admit that I am among them — will love where this film goes.

It might tread into the realm of fantasy at times, but its approach and its genuine care and love for the characters makes us feel like we want to fantasy to be real.

We go along for this long ride to the end. –

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