What with one thing and another – most of which I hold this lousy British summer personally accountable for – I was in a mood for only one thing this afternoon and that was watching a movie about the end of the world. Admittedly, the prospect of Keira Knightley did make me stop and pause for a moment but, in the end, my mood wasn’t to be dissuaded and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World it was.
As Seeking a Friend begins, the end of the world is a mere three weeks or so away, if that. An asteroid is on a collision cause for earth and there is no way out. Nowhere, nothing, no-one can survive the impact. Linda, the wife of our hero who is appropriately or not named Dodge, immediately runs as fast as she can away from her husband and her life. Likewise, everyone else turns up the dial and lives fast, grabbing every moment they can to love, die, riot, drink, dress excessively, cry, eat and not work. Not Dodge, though. Alone, he decides to find the love of his life. When Dodge (Steve Carell) finds his last days tangled up with a girl in his apartment, the lost and English Penny (Keira Knightley), they set out on the quest together. Its aim is to not face the end alone.
Seeking a Friend is a mix. I was a little unsure what to expect and that doubt wasn’t resolved by the first half hour or so. Is this a comedy? Is the asteroid really going to hit or will it swerve off at the last minute cartoon-style? But as the minutes passed, what a pleasure it was to discover a film that had me laughing throughout the first half and crying through the second. Comedy that shocks is never a bad thing and here, as the apocalypse approaches, how else could it be but ridiculous, exquisitely painful and tragic. As one character tells us, she’s only just hanging on. Hysteria is the opposite side of the coin to despair.
Dodge is a rock in the river. He too is only just clinging on but he does. Likewise, Penny, so much younger and immersed in the guilt that women are so familiar with, is discovering herself at the very time when she has to say goodbye to it all. So while we laugh with Dodge and Penny (another symbolic hopeful name, surely) at the absolute ridiculousness of this terrible bad luck, at the people they meet, at their outlandish behaviour, it’s only a matter of time. The clock ticks.
We don’t hear too much about the asteroid or what is going on around the world. We see everything through the people that Dodge and Penny meet and the one person who stays on the news channel as long as he can, rightly called the anchor. As the days go by and realisation hits and self-knowledge is reached, the tragedy and strength of humanity, its ability to hope against hope, hits you like a comet.
Seeking a Friend isn’t perfect. The fact that I didn’t now for a while if it were pure comedy or not produced an unevenness. But once I, and the film, realised where we were heading on this quest, then I put to one side all complaints. At that point, I gave in completely and I cried and laughed helplessly and, unexpectedly, I did feel fear too.
All credit to Keira Knightley. She and Farell hit a surprisingly naturalistic and charming tone and the pathos hits its mark. The film is helped no end by a great supportive cast including the wonderful Martin Sheen and William Peterson.
Personally, I found Seeking a Friend a cathartic experience. The humour becomes part of a deeper emotion until, finally, you want to know so much more about these characters and their lives. But, of course, that is the tragedy.