Apocalyptic Romantic Comedy Forgets The Romance And The Comedy

Steve Carell is one of the most likable leading men in Hollywood, and his deft combination of awkwardness and relatability allows him to deliver a punchline with the best of them. Relying on him to carry a dark romantic comedy is a fine idea in theory, but very few actors can rise above a genuinely bad screenplay. In the case of “Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World,” a depressing “comedy” about the apocalypse, it’s enough of a bummer before taking into account how poorly realized it is. Carell could have given the performance of his life (he doesn’t), and the film would have remained a cliché-ridden mess with a narrative built on convenience and coincidence.

“Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World” is essentially a road movie. It begins with Dodge (Steve Carell) and his wife Linda (Nancy Carell) sitting in a car roadside, listening to radio reports that a last ditch attempt to save earth from an impending asteroid has failed. Resigned to the fact that the planet is going to die, Linda exits the car and runs, without saying a word.

Dodge, in a haze of loneliness and despair, encounters a similarly lovelorn neighbor he’s never met, and they become fast friends. Penny (Keira Knightley) has just broken things off with her boyfriend (Adam Brody) and longs to visit her family in England before it’s too late. There’s a silly subplot about Penny accidentally getting mail that was meant for Dodge, keeping an important letter from him in the months leading up to the film’s events. Despite the misunderstanding, they predictably fall in love.

The bond between the leads is dead on arrival. Carell and Knightley have no chemistry to speak of and the characters don’t help matters by acknowledging the weirdness of their relationship. They get to know each other by doing all the things people are supposed to do in these types of movies. Cooking great food. Listening to vinyl records. Reconnecting with loved ones. Carell spends most of the movie moping and staring into the middle distance. Knightley cries a lot. In almost every scene. If this movie accomplishes nothing else, we now know definitively that Keira Knightley can pretend to cry really well.

This is one of those films in which people talk about things, something happens, and the same people react to the thing that just happened. The cycle repeats every 10 minutes without fail. It’s all so convenient and trite that it seems the narrative was constructed backwards. Instead of moving from point A to point B, the movie goes from point H to point G in the least interesting, most boring way possible. Instead of building up to what happens next, the screenplay spends all its time justifying what just happened.

Half the characters are nothing more than cameos (Rob Corddry, William Petersen, Derek Luke, T.J. Miller, Martin Sheen) that exist only to provide the leads with… stuff. Stuff like satellite phones, food, and cars. They’re in the film for 5 minutes, never to appear again. However, the excess of useless ancillary characters is tolerable compared to the apparent movie apocalypse checklist employed by the film’s creators.

You want end of the world clichés? We’ve got asteroids, riots, looting, suicides, somber television anchors, test patterns, hitchhiking, baptisms, bomb shelters, and substance experimentation galore. Doesn’t sound like an intimate romantic comedy, does it? I’m not sure what the film is, and neither is writer and director Lorene Scafaria (of the abysmal “Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist”).

She’s absolutely lost here, failing to grasp the conceit and laziness of building a romantic comedy around the literal end of the world. The stakes are so high that there are no stakes. The world is going to end, so our only investment is to see if these characters are able find themselves in each other. Of course they do. There’s very little tension (until the final scene, which is the best in the film) and the coincidences that bring Dodge and Penny together are too slight to bear the burden of their romance.

The film is a dud in the most basic sense of the word. Some plot points are unexplained and others are hammered home for no reason. The tone often shifts from cutesy to pitch black to plain old gloomy all in the same scene, giving the audience whiplash. This is especially unfair since we’re never given a good reason to care in the first place. There are some clever lines here and there and Dodge’s pet dog adds some much-needed emotional heft, but most of the screenplay is a waste and none of the mediocre performances are able to elevate the material. Steve Carell is an incredible talent, but he’ll have to be pickier in choosing scripts if he wants to continue his stellar track record.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Studio: Focus Features
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Screenwriter: Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Rob Corddry, Gillian Jacobs, Derek Luke, Melanie Lynskey, T.J. Miller, Mark Moses, Patton Oswalt, William Petersen
MPAA Rating: R (for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence)