Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World / Cert: 15 / Director: Lorene Scafaria / Screenplay: Lorane Scafaria / Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Melanie Lynskey / Release Date: Novermber 5th
For her first film as director, Lorene Scafaria has created a new subgenre, the romantic comedy-cum-apocalyptic road movie (apoca-rom-com?). All attempts to stop it in its course having failed, a massive asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, and humanity only has a few weeks to live. Abandoned by his wife and bitterly regretting a wasted existence, buttoned-up insurance salesman Dodge (Carell) thinks he might as well just sit tight and wait for the end. But when he belatedly gets a letter from the love of his life, he's galvanized into action and sets off to track her down. Tagging along with him in hopes of hitching a plane ride which will reunite her with her parents is his neighbour, flaky Brit Penny (Knightley).
Scafaria helms the early stages of the movie very well, wittily capturing society's gentle slide into anarchy. Some people, like Dodge's Hispanic housekeeper, struggle to get their heads around what's happening and doggedly turn up for work as usual. Others beat the asteroid to the punch by jumping out of windows. For many, orgies, drug-taking, the articulation of long-held grudges and the hasty ticking off of bucket lists become the order of the day. There's a bit of rioting, but in general the streets are eerily empty as people disappear to be with their loved ones.
All this is very entertaining and feels reasonably on the nail. What's much less believable is the rom-com element as Dodge and Penny supposedly warm to each other on their road trip. To be fair, Scafaria handles it with some tact, making it more a matter of glances and smiles than of clinches and declarations, but even so there's an obstinate lack of chemistry between the co-stars.
Knightley plays her role in a faded granny frock, hair in a raggedy bob, eyebrows unplucked, but dressing her down in this way has the reverse effect of making her seem even more palpably attractive and out of Dodge's league. And as for Carell, he starts off by exuding such a stern, judgemental, unprepossessing interior that his subsequent mellowing feels contrived – if he's harbouring any emotion, it's probably hatred, not love.
Those of you keen on your '60s pop will also deduct points for a scene where Dodge puts on a Scott Walker solo LP only for a Walker Brothers tune to come out of the speakers. But all that said, the film definitely has its moments, and it's graced with a fine performance by Knightley, a winning mixture of kookiness and melancholy. The conclusion, too, is dignified and moving. You wouldn't want this to be the last movie you ever see, but it's well worth a spin if you've got the time.
Extras: Trailer, Outtakes, Music for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, A look inside Seeking a Friend for the End of the World