Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
A 70-mile wide asteroid named Matilda is hurtling toward Earth, and now that a NASA mission (think the one in Armageddon I'd assume) has failed, it is only a matter of time before the asteroid impacts and destroys the planet. Matilda is still several weeks away from impact, leaving the population of Earth a limited time to come to terms with their coming doom. Dodge (Steve Carell) is one of those people, struggling to cope with what's coming, more so when his wife jumps out of their car and runs away. People are looking for answers, for happiness, but Dodge doesn't know what he wants.....and then it clicks. He wants to go find his long lost teenage love and see her once more. Along for the ride is his neighbor, Penny (Kiera Knightley), fresh off a breakup. They hit the road as the asteroid plummets closer and closer.
More than anything else, it was the premise/story that caught my attention here. This isn't one person who knows they're going to die in a set amount of time. This is the entire planet. Everyone. No one is going to survive this world-ending asteroid. How then do you think you would react in that situation? If you knew you only had a few weeks to live -- as does everyone else -- what would you do? Director Lorene Scafaria's film delves into that topic with varying degrees of success. It is neither a comedy or a drama, but instead, it's somewhere in that messy ground in between. My biggest issue is that the tone changes with the wind. One scene, it's trying to be a comedy, but the next scene, here comes the gloom and doom from the drama department.
When it does work, the movie is excellent. There are little snippets in the episodic story that are near perfection. Carell's Dodge goes to a dinner party (seems reasonable, doesn't it?) at the home of his long-time friend (Rob Corddry) and his wife (Connie Britton). Corddry's Warren has adapted a 'Screw 'em all!' mentality, intending to live up his last few weeks. He passes vodka to his kids, encouraging them to chug martinis, jokes that firecrackers are dynamite, but they can't hurt you unless you stand this close. Varieties of hardcore drugs pop up, Patton Oswalt's Roache trying some to check off his bucket list while also trying to get Dodge to get involved in a threesome (or maybe only a two-some...wink). It's these moments that work to perfection. No one is going to react to the end of the world in exactly the same way, and we see a lot of those tendencies. Dodge for one, continues to go to work.
I'll get into the cast more later, but the spotlight is on Carell as Dodge and Knightley as Penny. They're opposites in a lot of ways, but they find a common bond, a link, as the end of the world nears. The story is a quasi-buddy story with a road trip along for the ride so we the coming doom from their eyes. Dodge doesn't see the point in really getting to know someone new because let's face it, they'll all be dead in a few weeks. Penny -- fresh off a breakup with stoner mess-up Adam Brody -- wants to see her family one last time. I like both actors, but I didn't especially care for either character here. Carell seems pegged into this part as a quiet, worrisome guy. It's supposed to be understated, but I wasn't interested. Knightley as the quirky Penny is okay, but she seems to be trying too hard to be quirky, and that's never a good thing. The story starts off at a lightning-pace, funny, smart and dark, but as it progresses (and it's only about 94 minutes without the credits) it loses all the dark humor and is just.....dark.
The episodic story allows for some interesting characters and appearances, none of them around for more than a scene. Corddry especially is a scene-stealer, as is Oswalt in his awkwardness. Along with Britton and Brody, also look for Rob Huebel as Dodge's suicidal co-worker, Tonita Castro as his persistent cleaning lady in a great running bit, Melanie Lynskey as a woman with a crush on Dodge, William Petersen as a helpful truck driver, and Derek Luke as Speck, Penny's ex preparing for the end of the world in military fashion. The best part though goes to Martin Sheen in a quick appearance late as Frank, Dodge's father who he hasn't seen in years. The parts work because they're quick and effective without brow-beating you with a message.
I really liked parts of 'World' and struggled to keep up with the sometimes severely slow pacing in other parts. I loved Mark Moses as a national news broadcaster, providing a face of calm and serenity for viewers as the world is torn apart. We see some react with riots, others in peaceful fashion, embracing what little time they have left. There's no twist or huge surprise in the finale, an ending that works exceptionally well. I just wish more of the movie could have been like that. Still worth a watch, and maybe I'd like it more on a second viewing, but for now it gets a slightly above average review.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012): ** 1/2 /****