Saturday, March 2, 2013

Catching Up: "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"

 4 / 5 

What a sweet, honest surprise this is, a movie about love that actually considers what love might be all about, and whether it would be too late if love found us right everything else were about to end.  Almost every lovely, un-ironic moment in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World evokes a tone of wistful longing.  This is not a movie for the hard-hearted.

It begins where Armageddon or Deep Impact might have left off.  Earth is doomed.  A miles-wide asteroid is heading straight for us, and this is no joke.  In the opening scene, Dodge (Steve Carell) and his wife sit in their car listening, slack-jawed, to the news report: In three weeks, everyone will be dead.  He looks like he might be ready to tell her how much he loves her.  She turns toward him, then opens the door and runs away from him as fast as she can.

Dodge isn't sure he can blame her.  He's not the kind of person he imagined he would be.  His heart, though, is true, and it's breaking.  Everyone else in the world is living out their craziest notions (the film gets the cheap laughs out of the way fast, and they are good ones), but Dodge can only think about what awful timing he has; now, the final day will come and he'll be alone with no one to love him.

That's all he wants, but something so seemingly simple is now out of his grasp.  Likewise, his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley), knows there's absolutely no chance she'll be able to see her family back in England one last time.  The world is shutting down, and the airlines, no doubt driven by the directives of their financial executives, finally have just closed up for good.

Some stalwart souls are still at it, like the unflappable news anchor on TV (Mark Moses) and Dodge's maid, Elsa (Tonita Castro), who refuses to consider not coming in once a week.  When she finally gives Dodge an explanation in Spanish, you may not understand the words but you get the idea: The people who put on the bravest faces are the most scared of all.

On the other hand, if the world really were ending you can bet a lot of people would be itching to riot, and when a melee breaks out just down the street from their apartment building, Dodge and Penny hit the road.  He wants to find a childhood sweetheart, the woman he should have married instead of the one he did.  If you can't profess true love with just a few days left to go, when can you do it?  Meanwhile, Dodge knows a guy who has a plane, and might be able to get Penny back to England in time.

A road trip follows, but Seeking a Friend for the End of the World isn't quite that obvious.  Dodge gets where he wants to go, picking up a scruffy mutt along the way, and gets Penny where she wants to go, but the end result isn't at all what was planned.

This is a movie with an apocalyptic vision, but that imagines that if the world ended in three weeks, a lot of us would go off the deep end, but most people would probably be relatively calm.  We'd probably still go to the grocery store and read books and water the yard, because that's what we do.   Life goes on, even if it won't tomorrow.  Is this really how people would react?  Who knows?  I'd like to think maybe so.

Until its final, final moment, which makes good on every promise (and threat) the title implies, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World imparts a wise sweetness, an undefeated acceptance.  Director Lorene Scafaria brings all of it a lovely, clean visual look and quiet pacing that is a surprisingly good fit for both Knightley and, best of all, Carell, who is quiet, desperate, sad and serene all at once.  A beautifully realized original score and music mix add a final burnish.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World shares a sci-fi-tinged indie vibe with last year's underrated Safety Not Guaranteed, along with a genuinely big-hearted, optimistic view of the world -- in this movie's case, at least as optimistic as you can be knowing you've only got three weeks left.

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