Saturday, 13 April 2013

Film Review #49

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)
Director: Lorene Scafaria Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Adam Brody, Derek Luke, Melanie Lynskey, William Petersen, Connie Britton, Martin Sheen

Certificate: 15 Running Time: 101 Minutes

Tagline: "Nice knowing you"

I seem to have ended up watching quite a few films about the end of the world lately but this one is the first that actually has it in its title! The few words that precede them, however, indicate that it's not the most serious take on the subject there's ever been. There's also the fact that the cover is plastered with review quotes celebrating its hilarity of course. The more I thought about it though, the more I realised just how much potential there is for humour in the apocalypse - the many and enormously varied ways in which people would deal with their imminent doom, for example, could be worth the price of admission alone, especially with the always-splendid Steve Carrell in attendence. It was therefore with much hope that I recently bought and enthusiastically watched this slightly-exhaustively titled film.

Usually the doom facing mankind in these films comes by way of our own stupidity but this time it's a rather sizeable asteroid which is heading for us. Dodge Petersen (Carell) and his wife (played by his real-life wife, Nancy) are listening to a solemn radio broadcast in their car from which we (and they) learn that a last-ditch attempt to destroy the potato-shaped fiend has failed leaving three weeks for everyone to get their affairs in order or, as is more likely, act in a wildly irresponsible/desperate fashion until they're vaporised. Upon hearing this news, Nancy runs out on Dodge - literally - leaving him to spend his final days alone which understandably he's reluctant to do. To begin with he attempts to continue his life as normal by resuming his work as an insurance salesman before a chance encounter with his neighbour, Penny (Knightley), inspires him to look up his high-school sweetheart, with Penny's help of course.

So, what we have is basically a road movie set against the backdrop of Earth's final days! Despite this and the chaos going on around them, our two main characters remain remarkably level-headed through much of the film. Dodge reluctantly builds some bridges with his estranged father (Sheen) while Penny, and her collection of vinyl records, is hoping to catch one of the last flights back to England to see her family (that's right - Keira Knightley is actually playing an English character in an American film for a change!) but, as with most films, and indeed real life situations of this nature (road trips, not the end of the world), it's more about the journey than the destination and the same is true here. It's for this reason that the third act is probably the weakest, but weaker than what? Well, that depends almost entirely on our two leads.

Steve Carell has become one of the most reliably entertaining actors in recent years. Whether it's deadpan humour or serious drama, he's always highly watchable. Here, he does a bit of both and he's as likeable as always. Knightley is also quite appealing as the scatty music lover and they make a pretty interesting couple, as bickering strangers at first but their time together endears them to each other as well as us, the viewers. It was also a bit of a surprise to me as, thanks mainly to the review quotes on the cover, I was expecting an full-on comedy filled with slapstick as well as verbal gags. What I found instead was a film that's sometimes touching, sometimes quirky, and frequently surreal, but rarely out-and-out funny.

Prior to watching I was also expecting, for some reason, that the events would take place post-disaster, but that's not the case. There are some highly amusing moments though, of course, and they are most often down to the antics of people Dodge and Penny meet along the way (hard drugs, suicide, orgies, etc) but most of the scenes involving our unwitting travel companions are more a bit more subtle, and usually more affecting for it too. So, the ever-burgeoning number of apocalypse films still doesn't include the gag-fest I thought they now would but I was still far from disappointed when the credits rolled. More could've probably been done with the general concept admittedly, and if you can't stand Carell or Knightley I doubt they'll change your mind here, but for everyone else this is a pretty interesting and unique effort. It's certainly a thought-provoking film too. What would you do? How would you react? Watch this, then give it some thought.

RKS Score: 8/10

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