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If I had to pick a "friend for the end of the world,” Steve Carell would be a top choice. Maybe I am a little partial. I loved his portrayal of Michael Scott in The Office, his roles in The 40 Year Old Virgin,Dan in Real Life, and even his voicing of Gru in Despicable Me. He is ever likable and frequently hilarious.
In his newest film, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, he is asked to face the question, what would you do if you knew that an asteroid was headed toward earth and the world was ending in 21 days? It is not a typical apocalypse film in terms of action and attempts to thwart the end, but looks at everyday people, you and I, and how we might deal with such news.
Seeking a Friend is about the passage of time and what is really meaningful. The humdrum of day jobs and creating safety nets, angst over relationships, and strict adherence to rules all fall away. Yet, it isn't about throwing all caution to the wind but about coming alive again, if even for the first time, and even for a short time.
It is the directorial debut of Lorene Scafaria, well known for her screenplay of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. She handles an overwhelming subject with humanity, a touch of nostalgia, lightheartedness and sentimentality.
Carell plays an insurance salesman aptly named Dodge. He spent his life "dodging" emotions, loss, and living itself. Rather than face the end of the world news, he initially comically continues to go to the office. His wife in the film, who is actually his real life wife, Nancy Carell, literally dashes away at the news, leaving him for dust.
Dodge hopes to just quietly resign from the world but is awakened. First it is by a letter from a love that got away and subsequently by a dog named "Sorry" that he becomes responsible for. Finding love and taking care of something and someone become his reasons for living.
The film plays more like a dramedy than a comedy. There are certainly humorous and even a few laugh out loud moments but there are also plenty of sentimental ones. The pace is also a slow one, given the limited time frame the characters have, but seems intentional on Scafaria’s part to play with time.
Co-star Keira Knightley, his neighbor and subsequent “friend,” plays the free-spirited Penny. After getting rid of her loser ex-boyfriend, she wants to find a way to see her family, who live far away, one last time before her days have ended. Dodge takes on the mission to help her, and Penny offers to help him find his lost love.
Carell and Knightley are an unlikely pair. Their chemistry seems more natural in some scenes, than others. However, they ultimately pull it off. It is part "road movie" but there are enough "off-road" moments that tie things together. The way they acquired their truck, their wacky visit to a restaurant, Friendsy’s, and some reconnections with their past move their journey along to the end.
Seeking a Friend is an interesting, entertaining and thoughtful take on the end of the world. It encourages the viewer to ponder, how would you spend your last days if you knew? It also challenges us to realize time on earth may not be limitless but despite all odds, there is still a time for everything.