The romantic comedy is one of the most challenging film genres of the modern film world. The ending is always inevitable, so a filmmaker has to find a way to create interesting and likable characters and make the journey-- from the beginning, when both the man and the woman are single and ready to mingle, to the end when they fall in love after the man has chased the woman down at the airport…or something like that—worthwhile.
In Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” that journey has never been more fun and touching and free of the major rom-com clichés (such as the third act fight, followed by the reconciliation). It’s a romantic comedy set on the eve of the apocalypse. It brings two people together; who probably would never have met each other in any other circumstances. It’s one of the most refreshing romantic comedies I’ve seen in a while.
The picture has a sort of ordinariness and blandness to it, which seems appropriate for a movie about the end of the world. In the opening scene we are informed that a meteor is headed for earth and it can’t be stopped. In twelve days it will collide with earth completely destroying it. Not exactly a lively situation.
This scene is also where we meet our main man Dodge, played by Steve Carell. At this point Carell can practically play geeky and pathetic in his sleep, so the character of Dodge isn’t a stretch by any means. But like a lot of actors who are attuned to playing the same kind of character in each movie, he’s damned good at it. Dodge has been in a funk lately. Besides the fact that the end is nigh, he’s had three wives in his life and they’ve all left him and so he’s alone.
However, Dodge—with a dorky haircut, wearing an ugly sweater and walking with a slump—still gets up every morning and goes to work, at an insurance company, selling Armageddon packages (again, a perfect touch in a movie about the end-of-days). During a staff meeting he, along with what little staff remain, are told if they want to be CFO then now’s they’re chance.
In this first part, the movie seems to be in two mindsets. One: “The end may be nigh but dammit we’re still going to go about our daily routine.” (For example, there’s a brief scene of a man mowing his lawn.) And two: “If you want to do anything you haven’t ever done before… like heroine --here’s your chance.” This doesn’t sound very amusing, but it’s because the situation is so miserable that Scafaria is able to find humor. It’s so sad, that it’s funny.
However, when Dodge encounters Penny (a wonderfully crazy Keira Knightley), a nutty woman who’s also alone, the mood changes. A riot breaks out where they live, so the two decide to go on a cross-country road trip to find Dodge’s first wife. “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is an example of a movie that starts out pretty well to begin with but gets even better as it goes on.
When Dodge and Penny are on the road, the movie feels the most focused and genuine. Sure, the two run into a few obvious comic situations, like stopping at a restaurant called Friendzies, “Where everyone is your friend” but for the most part the movie stays on path without getting too sidetracked. The film is 101 minutes and yet it feels like about 80. There was never a moment where I got bored or restless. When it gets down to it, the movie is fairly simple, but that also means it’s completely devoid of unnecessary rom-com filler.
And as it gradually reaches its emotional finish the picture makes time for serious interactions (Dodge reconnecting with his dad) without comic interference.
Before this, Scafaria worked as a writer (she wrote the script for “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”) and her screenplay for “Seeking a Friend” is one of the best things about it. Instead of going on a bunch of adventures and jumping through outrageous hoops to get to know one another, Dodge and Penny just talk to each other most of the time. And Carell and Knightley exchange Scafaria’s dialog with great ease. Who would have thought these two would work in the same movie, let alone have great chemistry together?
In the end, even though “Seeking a Friend” is a romantic comedy, it’s more about—as the title suggests—friendship. Yes, we know Dodge and Penny are going to get together romantically but they are also simply looking for a companion--whether it’s romantic or not—to spend the final days with. There is romance in the movie but it’s not Scafario’s number one focus. It’s a bonus for an already funny and sincere movie.