Friday, June 22, 2012
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Review
by Francisco Salazar
On the heels of 2011's "Melancholia," a dark and fatalistic approach to the end of the world, Lorene Scfaria brings together for her first feature a tender, charming and bittersweet dramedy about two people meeting at the end of the world. The film which stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley tells the story of Dodge (Carell), an insurance broker who finds himself alone after his wife leaves in a panic. After meeting his neighbor Penny (Knightley), he decides to take a road trip to reunite with his high school sweetheart. However his plans are changed as he becomes involved with Penny.
The film deals with the theme of reconnecting with humanity. Both Penny and Dodge seek human connection as they have always lived unattached from society. On the one hand Dodge has always lived in function of his work and with an unhappy wife who cheated on him. He no longer has any connection with his mother and he has not seen or forgiven his father in 25 years. As a result he wants to be able to see his high school sweetheart Olivia, "the love of his life". On the other Penny also lives disconnected as she has always chosen boyfriends over family. She seeks to go back home and see her family in England before its to late.
After they meet the two are thrown together during a riot and they make deals; She will help him locate his first love if he will help her reach her family in England. The film becomes a travelodge of episodic adventures in which they encounter different people who deal with the end of the world in diverse ways.
Lorene Scfaria adds some subtle motifs that help emphasize her themes. For example, at the beginning of the film title cards appear to remind us of how many days are left in the world. These cards help emphasize Dodges lonely existence and his bored nature. Only after he meets Penny do these no longer appear and the sense of time is lost. The end of the world is no longer the main focus and instead it is the character's journey and development that is really important.
No matter how interesting these motifs are the success of the film is ultimately due to the two lead stars as well as the supporting cast. Steve Carell is without a doubt at his best bringing an inner expression that one is not used to. He brings out social awkwardness and alienation as well as loneliness through use of his eyes. No words are necessary just small nuances. Keira Knightley who is usually seen in costume dramas plays his counterpart and while she seems to be an awkward choice, she plays the flappable pixie to perfection. In one of her most subtle performances Knightley is both comedic and tragic. One of her most affecting scenes is when she finally gets to speak with her parents on the phone. Knightley's expression and dialogue delivery show her pain of not seeing them and all her regrets are clearly unveiled.
As a team both Carell and Knightley create an incredible chemistry. One of the most memorable scenes is in jail as Carell reminisces about his father. Carell is clearly hurting inside while Knightley is moved by his story. Another poignant scene together is in the final scene as they lie in bed together waiting for the inevitable. They know the world will end but there is some sort of comfort that everything will be okay.
In the supporting roles Patton Oswalt throws in his customary comic timing making Orgie gags while Martin Sheen delivers a brief but moving performance. Melanie Lynesky, Derek Luke, Connie Britton, and Corddry provide memorable characters.
This may not be a perfect film as there are many tone shifts and random characters such as the Dodge's cleaning lady Elsa. However the films gives us hope through some beautiful and comforting scenes. For example there is a scene with people being blessed at a beach and a joyous trip to a chain restaurant. Another instance of hope is seen as the two characters relationship develops and flourishes into an unbreakable love which ultimately gives them some type of happiness.
Ultimately, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a pleasant surprise as it takes on the end of the world in a touching, poignant, moving and somewhat positive way.