Smiling Through the End of Days: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
There are times when I can be a bit of a gloomy sod, so I’m not too sure how often you’ll come across words like ‘charming’, ‘sweet’ and ‘optimistic’ in this column. ‘Optimistic’ in particular seems odd when applied to an end of the world scenario. Yet that is what Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is. Approaching asteroid or not, twenty-one days left to go or not, this lovely film is all of those things: charming and optimistic and, bizarrely, hopeful.
Actually, the idea of the asteroid that is going to end everything is never really here or there. This isn’t a science fiction film. If anything, it’s an unusual road movie about two mismatched people who find love under the strangest of circumstances.
Dodge (Peter Carell) is an insurance salesman who obviously isn’t going to be selling much more insurance, given the circumstances. He has also only been going through the motions of a bored marriage and that comes to an abrupt end when his faithless wife takes off following the radio announcement that the last hope for averting the apocalypse has gone. It does go on to remind listeners, however, that they will continue their End of Days coverage, along with all your favourite hits.
I had expected to find it difficult to accept Carell in another role after his long stint at ‘The Office’ but in fact you don’t give that a thought after the first minute; and in Dodge, he is playing a genuinely warm and likeable man.
On the Titanic with No Life Raft in Sight
He is invited to a party that turns into end-of-the-world decadence as people want to try everything they’ve missed. They encourage their children to get drunk, get in some heroin to give it a whirl, get ready for some very casual sex. Dodge, who is outside of all this chaos, flees when his friend’s wife Diane (Connie Britton) makes a pass at him. Well, by pass I mean that she has her tongue about half way down his throat before he can react.
“Nobody’s anybody’s anything anymore”, she tells him. “You can’t run from this, Dodge.”
Dodge, however, finds himself rescuing his young English neighbour, Penny, played by Keira Knightley. (I know that Knightley is attractive and can act, but am I the only one that finds the way she gurns her facial features, well… weird?) This is the only time that we see rioters and looters, something that would normally be a staple in an Armageddon set-up.
Anyway, she decides to join him on a cross-country trek in order to reunite him with his first love. Along the way they go through a number of set-pieces: the driver who hopes they are assassins that he has hired to kill him (CSI’s William Peterson whom several female friends tell me is pure scrumptious! Again, weird); the all-week party and orgy at the Friendsy’s restaurant stop; the trip to jail due to an over-zealous cop who thinks that even minor laws should be maintained despite the approaching end; and the group of survivalists who intend to be there to start over after everything has died down.
Keep Calm and Carry On
It’s hardly giving anything away to say that this odd couple find real feelings for each other. And this is what makes this film so wonderful. The pairing of these two actors shouldn’t really work, but it does and I found myself really caring about them and wanting their relationship—against all the odds—to work out. That is what I think writer and first time director Lorene Scafaria has done here: she has taken a world where there should be no hope left and she has given it some.
I could bloody see the moment when Dodge fell in love, as Penny talks with a quiet passion about the beauty of vinyl. I damned nearly fell for her myself! (You do remember long-playing records, don’t you?)
The way her characters behave seems at first ludicrous and then completely admirable: the surfers; the keep-fit enthusiasts working out like nothing has happened; mowing the damned lawn as if it mattered anymore; the housemaid who just wants to keep showing up for work; and the happy, vindicated guy with his sandwich board (‘The End is Here’).
And then there is the meeting with Dodge and his estranged father. The actor’s name is not on the main credits and I’ll respect that, but suffice to say he’s always a welcome presence and at this stage carries a certain gravitas with him.
I’m just going to come right out and say it: this is a wonderful film. It’s not sugary and sentimental when it could be and even though there are a few clichés here they are handled so deftly that you don’t really care. Yes, leave your cynicism at home and check this out.
I don’t know much about director Lorene Scafaria except that she plays with a band called The Shortcoats that I’ve been listening to for the past couple of days. You can check her out under the Music section. It’s really good stuff.