Directed by Lorene Scafaria.
2012. Rated PG-13, 101 minutes.
What would you do if you knew for certain the world were going to end in three weeks? That’s the question facing us all in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World as a seventy mile wide asteroid is on a collision course with Earth and all attempts to stop it have failed. More specifically, it’s the question facing Dodge (Carrell). It’s also become exponentially more difficult to answer now that his wife has decided this would be the perfect time to leave him. Everyone around him is truly living each day like it’s the last, engaging in whatever activity their hearts desire while Dodge sits around and mopes. He finds someone to commiserate with in the flighty Penny (Knightley). She’s similarly distraught, having broken up with her boyfriend. Eventually, the two decide to help each other do the one thing they each must before it’s too late. An apocalyptic adventure ensues.
Early on, the movie focuses as much on our decaying societal mores as it does on the lives of our protagonists. Here is where most of its humor lies. The jokes are largely to be expected, generally revolving around people getting all the sex and drugs they could possibly want, but still fun to see play out. There are only two other jokes: the occasional ominous yet loony newscast and the situations Dodge and Penny find themselves in because of the outbreak of riots. The violence, and any humor derived from it, ends when a very odd man takes a bullet to the throat. You’ll have to see for yourself to understand how and why this could possibly be funny. A short while later, the sex and drugs part of the movie climaxes with a trip to a chain restaurant. Unfortunately, we still have half the movie to go.
Immediately upon finishing the very strange dining experience of our heroes, the movie settles into a string of predictable events in an effort to create a romance. Problem number one, again, is that the comedy disappears almost entirely. Instead, we’re stuck in this drama which never surprises us and will have to either deliver the depressing finale we've been trudging toward or, concoct some ridiculous BS for the sake of giving us a happy ending. Problem number two is that we never feel strongly enough about the couple in question to overcome problem number one. Dodge and Penny aren't two people we can see together under any circumstances. Making an exception because people are bound to do things and be with people they normally would not even consider. However, this just makes things seem even more preordained. This, combined with the fact that everything happens so perfectly on schedule, our pulse rate never increases. Our performers give it their all, but their interactions lack the magic needed to make us ignore these blemishes.
All is not terrible for the second half of the film. First, there is a wonderful scene, albeit a bit of a painful one, between Dodge and his dad played by Martin Sheen. It’s the one time we truly sense the emotion of the two people speaking. Second, the final scene is one of endless tenderness. It is by far the most enjoyable exchange between Dodge and Penny. If somehow, you find yourself caring by this point, you might even have to wipe away a tear or two. Odds are, you won’t.