Jun 21 2012 10:30am

Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World Is A Road-Trip Rom-Com That Really Commits To Its Sci-Fi Premise

Here’s a curious notion: With the release of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World this Friday, movie theaters will play host to not one, but two, road-trip romantic comedies whose premises hinge on science fiction rather than the typical tropes of mistaken identity or an upcoming wedding. Seeking a Friend follows Safety Not Guaranteed, the time travel comedy starring Aubrey Plaza. Maybe two is too early to call a trend, but both movies are reaping the benefits of their screenwriters’ freedom to incorporate more daring elements into their typical rom-coms.

However, while Safety is clearly an indie (and therefore, you’re more likely to accept any plot risks), Seeking a Friend comes across as much more mainstream. After all, you’ve got Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as the unlikely friends: He’s channeling his sad middle-aged character from last year’s Crazy, Stupid, Love, and she’s traded in her period-film garb for a choppy haircut and a goofy grin. But what these well-known actors manage to do is portray two Everymen in extraordinary circumstances, and highlight how human relationships warp and strengthen when faced with a ticking time bomb.


An asteroid 70 miles wide is heading for Earth. It’s called Matilda, and all attempts to turn it away have failed spectacularly. At the start of the film, soft-spoken insurance salesman Dodge’s wife (Carell’s real-life spouse Nancy Carell) literally runs away from him, never to be seen again. His friends decide to spend their final days in a drug-fueled orgy, but Dodge wants his last actions on this planet to mean something. Similarly, his young neighbor Penny (Knightley) regrets missing her flight back to England to live out her final days with the family she’d always taken for granted. With nothing to bind them to their old lives, they set out with the clothes on their backs and a stolen car.

Seeking a Friend is the directorial debut of Lorene Scafaria, who wrote 2008’s hipster love story Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. You can glimpse a similar set-up here: Chance matches up awkward guy with freewheeling, music-loving Manic Pixie Dream Girl. But whereas this walking film trope usually improves the guy’s life and general outlook, Penny’s powers are limited considering Earth’s impending destruction.

Still, their road trip to track down Dodge’s high-school girlfriend Olivia is kooky without stretching the limits of believability, and littered with a host of fun cameos from recognizable actors. You’ve got William “Grissom from CSI” Petersen as a creepy truck driver and Community’s Gillian Jacobs as the hostess at a TGIFriday’s-style restaurant where the waiters have all taken E and spend their final days chowing on fried onion blossoms and humping.

Considering your views on love, you’re either completely floored or totally unfazed when Dodge and Penny start to fall for each other. Up until this point we’ve trusted Scafaria to ground her outrageous plot in realism, so we’re drawn in as she deftly handles the natural evolution from companionship to attraction to genuine love. In another world, these neighbors wouldn’t do more than smile at each other politely in the elevator. But Seeking a Friend proves that you don’t have to spend years of your life with someone for them to be your soulmate.

Okay, here’s where the real spoilers come in. The movie’s greatest strength is that it fully commits to the notion of the apocalypse. There’s no Armageddon-type last-ditch effort to blow up the asteroid. It’s not revealed to be some worldwide hallucination. The world ends while Penny and Dodge lay in bed face-to-face. (An ironic, slightly uneven aspect of the plot is that the movie seems to reach its end four different times, but you now know what to look out for.) They could be any couple caught up in those first weeks of love — drinking each other in, wanting to learn everything about the other — if not for the flaming rocks taking out buildings around them.

Dodge’s attempts to make grand gestures of reconciliation (including a visit to his estranged father, played by Martin Sheen) are admirable, but cast in the light of the apocalypse they’re always going to fall short. The lesson here is that instead of trying to rewrite the past, savor every millisecond of the present. And even though I’ve told you the ending of this movie, I’ve kept mum on most of the details (including the scene that had me sobbing like a fool at the press screening). Because this movie, like any apocalypse, is less about the inevitable ending and more about the tiny human moments along the way.

Natalie Zutter is a playwright, foodie, and the co-creator of Leftovers, a webcomic about food trucks in the zombie apocalypse. She’s currently the Associate Editor at Crushable, where she discusses movies, celebrity culture, and internet memes. You can find her on Twitter.

john mullen
1. johntheirishmongol
You just made it unwatchable for me. If the world ends, whats the point?
2. Edgewalker
The journey.

Dan Herbert
3. Ordeith
Considering that I have never been a big fan of Steve Carell, this movie actually sounds like it has some potential.
4. Tehanu
The world is going to end for each of us someday -- even though it'll keep right on going for everyone else. The point is what you do with the time you have, not how you manage to somehow keep living forever.
5. Dulcie
That sounds like the plot of "Last Night" - the Don McKellar film. Which is amazing, by the way. Also has David Cronenberg and Sandra Oh, among others.
6. SF
Agree with Dulcie. "Last Night" (the 1998 film, not the more recent film of the same title) is quietly amazing. And a great cast: Don McKellar (also writer-director), Sandra Oh, Sarah Polley, Callum Keith Rennie, Genevieve Bujold, Tracy Wright and David Cronenberg. Follows a bunch of people in Toronto on the last night before the world ends.

This film sounds like a rom com version of that film, sort of. Which could work. (Not to say this film ripped that film off. It's a very basic premise.)

@1 - The point in films like this is to watch characters grappling with the inevitable which, as Tehanu @4 says, is something that happens to all of us eventually.
Natalie Zutter
7. nataliezutter
@1 - Is your issue with the apocalyptic ending in general? 'Cause you'd have to take that up with the screenwriter. If it's with me revealing the ending, I'm sorry. I had hoped my two spoiler warnings would be enough.

@3 - I definitely find his shtick tiring! So I was equally apprehensive, but he brings great gravitas to the role.

@5 + @6 - I'll definitely check out Last Night! And yeah, while this is billed as a comedy, there are definitely some dark moments.
8. politeruin
Another recommendation for last night here, wouldn't mind seeing a writeup about that some time. It just has the most heart stopping ending that i can't imagine this film having a hope in hell of living up to.

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