Seeking a Friend For the End of the World is a film in which the world is about to end, but not really one about the end of the world, looking instead at the minutia of human life in the days before its extinction (not unlike Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia in content, although a million miles away in tone).
Steve Carell plays Dodge, a dorky insurance salesman whose wife leaves him as soon as she gets wind of the imminent apocalypse. He mopes a lot but he’s generally pretty likable, which is just as well, as everyone else is entirely, irredeemably awful.
The smattering of funny moments are clumped near the beginning, when Dodge goes to a decidedly middle-class dinner party at which the hostess playfully hands out syringes after dessert, cooing: “who wants some heroiiiiin?”. Another drunk guest, played by Patton Oswalt, delivers a monologue about how the end of the world has greatly improved his chances of getting laid.
Then Dodge meets love interest Penny, a role butchered with impressive heavy-handedness by Keira Knightley. Her character conforms so closely to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope that she is entirely interchangeable with any number of self-consciously quirky female leads (think Natalie Portman in Garden State or Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown). A scene in which she describes her deep affinity with vinyl records is so laughably trite I actually groaned aloud, which I suppose is marginally better than vomiting into my lap, which was the second option.
The pair embark on a road-trip of sorts, the reasons for which are so predictable it isn’t worth going into. There is zero chemistry between them. In fact, their relationship is so anaemic the movie plays like some kind of Orwellian exercise in emotional desensitisation. Dodge could have reached over and strangled the life out of Penny and you’d just continue to stare at the screen, glassy-eyed, dribbling.
Director Lorene Scafaria assumes a baffling degree of stupidity in her audience, triple underlining exactly how you should be feeling at any given moment and laboriously connecting every last dot in an increasingly dull tapestry of two-dimensional schmaltz. By two thirds of the way thorough, I was praying the sky would hurry up and collapse. Not in the movie, you understand: in real life. It’s that bad.
First published in City A.M.