Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: written and directed by Lorene Scarfaria; starring Steve Carell (Dodge), Keira Knightley (Penny), Rob Corddry (Warren), Martin Sheen (Frank), Connie Britton (Diane) and William Petersen (Trucker) (2012): A small independent film with an A-list cast, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World got an unfairly limited release last summer. It’s a small gem of a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of impending global apocalypse.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the sort of science-fiction film that most people don’t realize is a science-fiction film because it’s concerned with character and not plot. But it is science fiction of the adult sort that almost never make it into a film, one in which the social implications of the impact of one changed premise upon a society are explored with wit, humour, and a certain amount of poignance.

A giant (actually, a really, really giant, as in ridiculously giant) asteroid will soon destroy life as we know it. On the bright side, the asteroid is named Matilda. Steve Carell’s Dodge, whose wife runs out on him with three weeks to go until doomsday, is a slightly repressed and deeply unhappy insurance salesman. Keira Knightley is his free-spirit upstairs neighbour. Some of what happens between them can be predicted, but not all of it.

Forced together into a road trip, she to find a plane to get her back home to England to be with her family and he to desperately reconnect with the love of his life, they have a series of wacky but thankfully realistically muted adventures that net them a truck with a bullet hole in the windshield, a cute dog, and a lot of unpacking of emotional baggage.

Developments with the asteroid mostly go on in the background; in the foreground, people run the gamut of emotions and actions one would expect in such a situation. The power-company people are the real heroes here, as the electricity stays on pretty much right to the end. Kudos!

A nitpicker with even a bit of astronomical knowledge will probably decide by the end of this film that one way or the other, aliens are involved with this asteroid. With personal theories resulting from these asteroidal shenanigans (though the science here is at least as realistic as what happens with the comet and the asteroid in Deep Impact and Armageddon, respectively), one can decide what happens after the final scene in a way that I don’t think writer-director Lorene Scarfaria intended.

As it stands, this is a worthy addition to that small but sturdy sub-genre of films with the apocalypse in the background and not the foreground (see also Last Night, Melancholia, and apparently five or six comedies coming out in the next six months). Knightley is really good, as is Carell, and the supporting characters are also all clearly defined and believeable. Recommended.

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