As I write this, I literally just got home from the screening of ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’, and I can’t stop thinking about it. The theater where this screening was held lies in the heart of Salt Lake City. Because I live in the opposite end of the valley, I had a 25-minute drive home to relish my thoughts. Having not had dinner yet, I’m sitting here stuffing pot stickers down my throat just to give my body the energy it needs to let me spit my thoughts out. I cannot praise this movie enough.
Two of the three films that moved me to study film while in my early 20s carry similar tones and themes as ‘Seeking a Friend’. The deeper I got into the film, the more wrapped up I became in it. By the end, I was saying, “This is my type of movie. These kinds of movies speak to me. They feel like they were made just for me.” Let me explain some of what makes my inner movie geek tick.
Hearing the premise to the film, you might think that this was some average summer blockbuster. Two unlikely people are brought together when it’s discovered that a 70-mile-wide asteroid is on a direct collision course with Earth. Only three weeks remain before all life on the planet will be brought to an end.
The film opens with Dodge (Steve Carell) and his wife listening to the breaking news in their parked car. An ‘Armageddon‘-esque team was sent up to destroy the asteroid, but the mission was a failure. Dodge takes the news stoically, but his wife runs from the car in tears and is never seen again. ‘Seeking a Friend’ is never about the asteroid, but the effect that it has on people. Dodge literally looks up to the sky only once in the entire film, and he’s not even looking at the hurdling rock that’s about to end his life. The film is about people, a study of how people react to tragedy and how important relationships are in our lives.
The premise of ‘Seeking a Friend’ reveals four different types of personalities that emerge from the news of this impending doom: panic, depression, optimism and denial. Panic is an emotion that you’d expect to see in this situation. There are plenty of those characters here. The depressive folks drink the remainder of their lives away, burning the candle at both ends because – who cares? – this is all about to end. There are no consequences. These are also the ones looking to commit suicide (some of whom even hire assassins to take them out when they’re least expecting it). The optimists try to “seize the day.” They look to do everything that they never could. Finally, those in denial live their lives like nothing is going to happen. They return to work, slaving away at their inconsequential jobs.
Dodge is a hybrid of all four. He panics, but his panic is interior and rarely rears its head. His depression fills him with regret, which causes him to want to act on those decisions that he never made. And his denial causes him to never see the actual act fate that lies ahead – everyone in the world is about to be either crushed or burned up. The optimism doesn’t come out until he makes a new unlikely friend.
With two weeks left, Dodge meets another fellow being like him who lies within all four of these categories: Penny (Keira Knightley). Because of the variances in personality, background and age, the friendship that forms is unexpected. They couldn’t be more opposite. Dodge’s family is completely broken; Penny’s is forged in steel, which is where her depression and regret come from. With airlines and phones down, Penny will never speak with or see her family again – and it’s all her fault. She’s wasted her time with American flings, blowing off her family the entire time. And now, she realizes that the insignificant things she wasted her life on have cost her one thing that she now can’t have – her family.
When riots cause the city to become dangerous, the two head off on an adventure with mutual benefits. Yes, it becomes a road trip film, of sorts. What lies ahead, I’ll refrain from spoiling out of my simple desire for you to relish this film on your own.
I categorize ‘Seeking a Friend’ as a hard-core romance – not as in lovey-dovey sappy romance, but as in the romance of old literature. It’s so deeply intimate that it’s impossible to miss. But the remarkable thing about this romance is that it’s established in reality, based on words, conversations and glances – not the simple “we met and now we’re in love” so-called romances of, say, Nicholas Sparks movies. The romance here is intense and utterly honest. It’s beautiful and consuming. About one-third of the way into the film, there’s a scene of dialogue that caused me to pause and think, “This moment is brilliant. This is the scene that people will remember when they talk about this film.” But then, ten minutes later, there’s another scene that evoked the same reaction. Then another. And another. And another. This script is absolutely flawless. It’s perfect and beautiful.
At the same time, it has a solid amount of truly funny comedic bits. Cameos abound, and each of them carries great comic timing, but they never distract from the tone and themes. The two movies that I previously mentioned that were major influences on me are ‘Garden State’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘. ‘Seeking a Friend’ carries the rich, consistent tone of ‘Eternal Sunshine’ and the comedic sensibility and themes of ‘Garden State’. This blend of elements could not work any better. Kudos to fairly-new writer and director Lorene Scafaria. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
My only complaint with the film lies within a fraction of its ending. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll save my remarks until after you’ve had the chance to see it. What happens isn’t bad, and doesn’t ruin anything, but I personally would have liked to see the movie go just a hair off from what it does.
If you’re looking for something refreshingly good this weekend, don’t underestimate ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’. It deserves to be seen. Carell gives another great dramatic performance, and it feels fantastic to love Keira Knightley again. Amidst this week’s lackluster and let-down releases, this is the breath of fresh air that you deserve. With six more months of movies ahead of us, I can go ahead and say that this will be one of my very favorite films of 2012. Assuming that we actually live to see the end of this year doomed by the Mayan calendar, I’m certain that ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ will crack my Top 10 of 2012 list.