The cast/crew bit: written & directed by Lorene Scafeira, starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley
The ten-word synopsis: The end is nigh. Two neighbours look for companionship.
The end of the world is an odd choice of topic for a comedy. While it’s worth noting that the film takes a far darker tone than the trailers do, it is refreshing to see a film willing to have a crack at a fairly difficult subject in an almost light-hearted way. As such, seeing these kind of norms challenged and subsequently beaten down makes Seeking a Friend For The End of the World feels like a far better film than it probably is.
The film is funny, that’s undeniable, but it’s not where this so-called comedy has its heart. While it’s hardly a meteor shower of belly-laughs, there are enough smirks and slight chuckles to get the film through it’s 101-minute runtime. Most of the gags appear together, linking the darker segments together without showing you the join. In keeping with the general grounded feeling of the film, the style of humour is very much grounded in reality. There are no ‘surreal’ gags, ‘rip-roaring’ set-pieces and a thankful bare minimum of lowest-common-denominator toilet humour. It’s one-off lines and daft actions on the whole. A lot of the jokes are more satirical than anything else. There are digs at the way in which the media wouldn’t stop their ‘brainwashing’ program even if the end were nigh. The radio station declares, after the news of our impending doom “We’ll be giving you a countdown to the end of days as well as all your classic rock favourites”. It’s never an outstanding smart level of humour (Something the reviewed-last-week Black Mirror could be proclaimed) but it is clever enough for it to never feel like it’s cheapening the film.
Keeping a dark tone is a brave move for what is essentially a romcom road movie, but it does pay off. There’s a real emotional heart to the film, even if it occasionally gets lost in clunky dialogue. The films’ biggest problem is its script, which often fails to get to the point quickly enough or for some reason dances around better ways of putting its points. However, it doesn’t come through as terrible by any stretch, largely thanks to a pair of influential central performances. I found myself caring for both leads and was concerned about Dodge and Penny’s collective fates, even if we knew from the films title where they were headed.
We see Dodge (Steve Carell)’s wife leave him in the films’ very first scene, and it’s impossible not to pity a poor, helpless man, wading through a world that he doesn’t deserve to be lumped in. Carell has a slightly detached look in his eye. We can see the cogs turning in Dodges’ head, tell there’s something on his mind. Despite only being a paper-thin character on page, he’s given a life by Carell that very few other comic actors could manage.
Keira Knightley’s character, Penny, however, is a slightly clumsier creation. She apparently has a sleeping disorder that’s used in the introduction between the pair, but then promptly forgotten about. She also seems to almost work as some sort of human swiss army knife, eventually holding the solution to every problem the pair face, no matter how illogical. Yet all of this is irrelevant- Nothing I’ve mentioned in this paragraph so far came to mind during the actual process of watching Seeking a Freind for the End of the World. What did come through was just how good Keira Knightley is. Slightly ditzy, she overcomes the annoyingness trap laid directly before her. (A prime example of falling into said trap is Rebecca Halls’ intolerable performance during last months’ otherwise ‘meh’ Lay the Favourite) I cared about her. I cared about both the characters. And, frankly, I don’t think there’s anything much more important than that.
Watching the final sequence in Seeking a Friend caused a sole tear to chug its way down my face. While not a particularly dramatic depiction of a certain turn of events, it’s the power of the acting on display and the relationship built up with the characters over the first 100 minutes that caused the hot tear duct action. Petty script grievances aside, the world feels real and the characters feel like people. Shame none of that’ll be around much longer, then.
7 profanity-happy traffic reporters out of 10