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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

by on June 27, 2012
 

“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is not a comedy. The trailer just shows the funny parts.

No wonder Steve Carell signed on to this project. It’s right up his alley — a bittersweet dose of reality laced with comedy rather than the other way around.

Throughout his career, particularly in “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Dan in Real Life,” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love.,” Carell has masterfully portayed men at the end of their rope. “Seeking a Friend” is an amplification of that archetype — a study of a man amidst the apocalypse.

Carell takes his best implosive turn yet as Dodge Peterson, an insurance salesman quietly crumbling in the wake of the Earth’s impending doom. (The film opens with the news of an incoming asteroid.) He’s the sensible straight man in a world gone mad. While he stews about the life he could have had and all the loves that got away, everyone around him throws caution to the wind, engaging in drug use and promiscuous sex.

Like the film itself, his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) initially seems like a dark blast of whimsy but turns out to be a tender, life-affirming spirit.

The film follows them as they drive cross-country, fulfilling each other’s final wishes and ultimately falling in love. It missteps precisely when they do, detouring into strange territory with even stranger company. Two characters in particular — a truck driver that suspects them to be killers and a former flame planning to use Penny for post-apocalyptic reproduction — feel like mere comedic filler.

More unexpected than these detours is the emotional heft of the film’s love story and the dynamic chemistry between Carell and Knightley. Writer-director Lorene Scarfaria (“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”) shows keen understanding that although love may seem like a deafening, catastrophic blast, it is really a quiet implosion. And like the disaster at the center of the story, it hits when least expected.

Although it takes a few jarringly broad comedic steps, the film never goes overboard with its romantic side. There are no sappy speeches or love-fueled chases through airports. Like Carell and Knightley’s romantic gestures, it is subtle, quiet and realistic. This is a refreshing, nuanced romantic drama — one of the best in recent memory.