At the start of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World we learn that the last attempt to stop an asteroid from colliding with the Earth has failed and human life has just three weeks left in existence. Dodge (Steve Carell) hears the news on his car radio and moments later his wife runs from the car, not wanting to spend what is left of her life with our bland lead. Dodge is an uncomplicated man of habit and continues to turn up to his day job in spite of the impending apocalypse. Following a few minor plot points Dodge is embarking on a road trip to track down his childhood sweetheart with his young free-spirited neighbour Penny (Keira Knightley) with hilarious and moving consequences.
For a Steve Carell comedy the humour is for the most part quite genuine and understated. Towards the start the comedy threatens to become too broad but never quite breaches and throughout Carell is playing the straight man rather than rolling out another “wacky character”. I much prefer it this way round. With Carell playing a real human type it is a lot easier to buy into the emotional story at the heart of this plot.
Refreshingly the apocalypse takes a back seat for a change. As we join the story after all attempts to avert disaster have been abandoned we don’t ever need to spend time in a NASA control room or in the President’s Oval Office instead focussing on characters and their individual reactions to the end of the world. It’s all about emotions and human relationships and more specifically the last blossoming friendship between repressed Dodge and hippy hipster Penny.
Knightley as Penny is also playing a strangely endearing character much less removed from reality than her roles can sometimes seem. The film completely manipulated me and had me falling for Penny over the course of an hour and a half. Seeking a Friend deploys the now classic trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl with Knightley’s Penny performing the thankless task of bringing Dodge out of his shell and being a hipster’s dream woman. The poor girl has an obsession with vinyl records and suffers from adorable hypersomnia. I’d criticise the film more for this if I weren’t so damned attracted to Manic Pixie Dream Girls.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a pitch perfect comedy. The humour for the most part was quite subtle with Steve Carell reigning himself in nicely and even the broader moments were genuinely funny and were within the tone of the film. Keira Knightley is fantastic and for a change you can see why someone would fall for her so quickly. The film is also really touching, demonstrating in the most literal sense that if you love something, let it go. I laughed, I cried, and I can’t wait to see it again.