There’s something a little silly about the fact that as all hell is breaking loose just outside your window during the apocalypse, the best thing you can think to do is whisper sweet nothings into the ear of the girl you just met.
This is both the strength and the crutch of “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” essentially just a romantic comedy but with the fortune and misfortune of being set at the end of days.
An asteroid is destined to hit the Earth within weeks, and Dodge’s (Steve Carell) wife literally runs off as soon as the news breaks. He’s left depressed and aimless until he meets Penny (Keira Knightley). The two escape their home during a riot and agree to help each other get to Penny’s family in England and Dodge’s high school sweetheart.
Given the circumstances, it’s understandable that these characters might act a little recklessly, but it’s a tone that can be a bit exhausting for a romantic comedy. The film’s set pieces all inevitably lead to extreme punchlines about sex and death. This is true of the restaurant that breaks out into an orgy or the truck driver who is assassinated just as he’s about to share his life philosophy.
Lorene Scafaria uses the gravity of the situation to her advantage by avoiding typical pitfalls in the rom-com formula, such as an awkward second encounter with Dodge’s ex-wife, the skanky single woman looking for sex or the third act fight that would keep Dodge and Penny apart.
And yet Scafaria fills the void with little of substance. Rather than talk about God or the purpose of existence, Penny opts instead to say how much she prefers listening to albums on vinyl.
“Seeking a Friend” even introduces dozens of character actors (Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, Martin Sheen, T.J. Miller, Rob Huebel and Gillian Jacobson, just to name a few) only to discard them after delivering a darkly sardonic punchline.
The treat then is Carell, who in a more subdued and serious performance brings what someone like Bill Murray or Jack Lemmon might’ve brought to the role.
The bond between Penny and Dodge is one we’ve seen before. She’s the optimist and he couldn’t care less, and at the end of the day (or world), “Seeking a Friend” is a movie about learning to not put up with the bullshit to find at least something or someone you like in life. It would be hard not do the same here.