Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is not as serious as the 1998 Last Night and it has none of the loud, desperate attempts to save the world characteristic of apocalyptic action films. Instead, it establishes the tragic scenario and gets on with its relatively subdued study of human behavior as Dodge and Penny hit the road seeking family and past loves. As Dodge, Steve Carell has seldom been so composed and contemplative, and his superbly controlled performance shines as his thoughtful, very human emotions play out. As Penny, Keira Knightley chooses too much cute posing and too many busy mannerisms for me. That’s as much a director’s choice with my nod more to the quieter interaction.
First time director Lorene Scafaria, who also wrote the screenplay, does use supporting characters and almost throwaway moments to include some strong, you-be-the-judge episodes. For example, Dodge sees a spider in his bathroom sink, begins to kill it, but doesn’t. It crawls on his face as he sleeps. and he shows evidence of multiple bites on his face the next day. And in other scenes, Dodge’s Latina cleaning woman sees no reason to alter her weekly schedule and keeps showing up every Tuesday to tidy the apartment even though Dodge tells her she need not come.
Later in the story, Dodge and Penny join a long line of people heading to the beach in what looks like a baptism and social gathering. Several scenes involve looting and riots, another one involves a visit to a group of survivalists. One newscaster quietly signs off a few hours before the asteroid’s impact. And a trucker’s action is shocking and out of keeping with the film’s dominant tone. But consistently throughout the film, no messages are explicitly stated, letting the various choices speak volumes.
Surely the reconciliations and pursuit of lost love shouldn’t need tragedy as a catalyst. And so Seeking a Friend at the End of the World has a message for everyone. At area cinemas.