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Seeking a Friend For the End of the World

Avoid the green bananas

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

I’ve always resisted having a star-rating system to accompany reviews, and this movie is a perfect example why. I enjoyed it, had fun with it, shed a tear or two when I was supposed to. But honestly, it really isn’t a very good movie. It does some things well, others quite badly, and in the end is misconceived and vague. But I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. It’s like a feel-good Melancholia.

Where does that fall on a one-to-five scale?

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, a title guaranteed to irritate the guys who change movie marquees on Thursday nights, is a mash-up of two genres I like, the odd couple romance and the end-of-the-world movie. Do they mix like peanut butter and chocolate? Not really, at least not in the hands of writer-director Lorene Scafaria (whose only previous credit was the script adaptation for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), though when the film doesn’t work it’s never jarring, simply banal. And enough moments do work that you probably won’t feel you’ve wasted your ticket dollars.

Steve Carrell stars as the auspiciously monikered Dodge, an office worker first seen listening to the news on the radio with his wife. The government’s last attempt to prevent a 70-mile-wide asteroid from approaching the Earth has failed; it will hit in three weeks.

Mrs. Dodge (a cameo by Carrell’s real-life wife, Nancy) is off like a shot: It turns out she has a boyfriend she’d rather spend the end of days with. Not so her husband, who continues going to work and the gym for lack of any other way to spend his time.

This isn’t a special effects movie (it appears to have been made on a small budget, with Southern California locations filling in very unpersuasively for New Jersey). Instead of scenes of massive destruction, we get glances at how people might react to a 21-day bucket-list window, and they’re both sad and funny: sex, alcohol, junk food, drugs, none of which makes anyone any less miserable. True to his name, Dodge avoids it all.

Eventually circumstances throw him on the road with a neighbor he has only just met. Penny (Keira Knightley) is as impulsive as he is reticent, throwing herself into relationships as often as she falls out of them. They determine that they can help each other. He can get her on a plane to England to be with her family; she can get him to the One Who Got Away, his high-school sweetheart who, he learns, has been trying to get in touch with him.

Even though it isn’t intended to be a sci-fi thriller, Seeking lacks the sense of urgency you would think would be inherent in such a situation. Dodge and Penny have various encounters on their trip, most amusingly at a TGIF/Appleby’s-type chain restaurant where the staff has decided to take the corporate philosophy to its limit. They also run into some recognizable guest stars, most of whom look like they’ve just come from their stylists when they should appear at least a little disheveled.

Along the way, the script never builds any groundwork for the inevitable clinch between Dodge and Penny. Even as the finale works its effect on you (it’s not hard to guess what happens), you sense that it’s not quite earned. Can Scafaria be making a cynical observation that love is just a matter of proximity and the right circumstances? No; this is a movie that not only uses the Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe” for a sentimental scene, but uses all 4:17 of it. Instead of believing that these characters have worked through their differences, we’re mostly just relieved that, as our surrogates, they won’t have to meet their ends alone.

Watch the trailer for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

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