Movie review: 'Seeking a Friend for the End' a fatalistic, funny look at last days


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If you're seeking a friend for the end of the world, look for Steve Carell or Keira Knightley instead of Kirsten Dunst.

The first two appear in an apocalyptic dramedy set as a 70-mile-wide asteroid speeds toward Earth, while Ms. Dunst sank into depression in the aptly named movie "Melancholia."

"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World," by first-time director Lorene Scafaria, is sad, smart, sweet, bittersweet, romantic, fatalistic and funny all at the same time or in waves.


'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley.
  • Rating: R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence.

Radio stations deliver doom, gloom and all your classic-rock favorites as Earth braces for doomsday in 21 days. The DJ cues up "Wouldn't It Be Nice," but the Beach Boys' lyrics about living together in the kind of world where we belong weren't meant for one on the brink of likely extinction.

Mr. Carell is Dodge, a cautious insurance salesman whose wife bolts, leaving him to face dying alone. Until, that is, he meets neighbor Penny (Ms. Knightley), who just broke up with her boyfriend and realizes she will never see her family in England again. "It's the end of the world, and I'm still 15 minutes late," she laments, at a time when commercial air travel has ceased.

Dodge and Penny try to track down old friends and make peace with the past. They encounter people who have given in to despair, turned to religion or riots, prepared for this event or simply partied like it's the last supper.

"Seeking a Friend" raises the sort of questions you could ask at a last supper or your next one.

If you knew, barring a miracle, that the world was about to end, would you continue to go to work, even if you could get a promotion or wear casual Friday garb every day? Would you drink yourself into oblivion, hire someone to kill you, sample forbidden substances and taboo pleasures, bother to eat sensibly, reconnect with people you once loved, apologize to those you hurt or just turn up the tunes?

"Seeking a Friend" has an excellent and eclectic soundtrack based partly on Penny's love of vinyl records and inspired by the director's own fondness for Lou Reed, onetime Byrds songwriter turned solo artist Gene Clark, the Beach Boys ("Pet Sounds" gets a shoutout) and the Beatles.

Until now, Ms. Scafaria was best known for adapting the novel "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" directed by Peter Sollett and starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings. Here, she directs her own screenplay, which she rewrote after her father became ill and died, and we all know time becomes more precious when it's measured in weeks or days rather than years.

Ms. Scafaria knows how to write conversation, not just lines sandwiched between action pieces or road-trip stops. The age difference between Dodge and Penny is acknowledged, and while that's a bugaboo of mine, it is the end of the world, so I'm willing to make allowances. Lending support in small roles are a dozen or so fine actors, such as Connie Britton, Derek Luke and William Petersen.

The film seems to end and then it proves it still has a little diesel in the tank as it guides us to a pull-no-punches but comforting conclusion to a story about seeking and finding a friend for the end of the world.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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