Setting a narrative during the final days of civilisation is a premise which has been utilised on countless occasions in films. However, instead of focusing on a last ditch attempt to save the planet, Lorene Scafaria’s romantic comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) paints an intriguing picture of what the world might look like if the end was upon us. Dodge’s (Steve Carell) wife ditches him when a humorous radio transmission informs them that the world will end in three weeks. Alone and unsure of how to spend his last days, fate intervenes in the form of next-door neighbour Penny (Keira Knightley).
Despite its serious subject matter, it’s Seeking a Friend’s more light-hearted moments that are the most enjoyable to watch. Sandwiched in between shocking suicides and rioting are hedonistic parties and amusing TV broadcasts. It’s an insightful picture into what the end of the world might look like, and the people Dodge and Penny meet on their travels – William Peterson’s cameo is a particular highlight in this regard – are interesting sketches on how different people would cope. First time director Scafaria deserves credit here for the flawless balance of humour and drama.
No matter how much chemistry is evident between Carell and Knightley, there’s no shirking the fact that they are – intrinsically – an odd coupling. This even extends to the film itself; it’s difficult to believe that the emotionally detached Dodge and eccentric Penny were ever meant to be together and at no point will you find yourself rooting for the couple. Furthermore, the humour that was so prevalent in Seeking a Friend’s opening act is sorely missed for the great majority of proceedings.
That takes nothing away from what are two impressive lead performances. Carell does an excellent job of portraying Dodge’s dreariness, but shines when he is allowed to express other emotions. On the other hand, there is no shortage of quirks that Knightley expertly manages as the vinyl-loving Penny. It’s a significant departure from the actress’ usual roles, but she is on great form here, and a heartfelt phone call to Penny’s family is a highlight.
In the end, you almost wish that the title had been heeded and Penny and Dodge had remained friends. Instead, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World sadly feels a little like two separate films bundled into one – one for enthusiasts only.