Inexplicably released in June, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World debuted to mostly lackluster reviews, barely making a ripple in the superhero and special effects-laden summer waters. But as existential end-of-the-world indies go, it so far surpasses the similarly-themed Melancholia, it would be a shame to miss it on DVD.
There are no spoiler alerts. The movie begins with matter-of-fact media reports that the world will end in three weeks when the earth collides with an asteroid. Steve Carrell is the aptly named insurance salesman, Dodge, whose wife immediately abandons him in the face of the news, causing him to reflect later in the movie “being afraid of dying alone was why I got married in the first place.”
Meanwhile though, he goes about his days. He shows up at work, where “casual Friday” garb is tearfully extended throughout the week, and volunteers are accepted for the position of CFO. He quietly vomits into the trashcan next to his desk after telling a customer on the phone, “I’m afraid the Armageddon package is extra.”
He resignedly sips cough syrup with codeine to blur his consciousness and shows up for Last Suppers with friends like Connie Britton and Rob Corddry who serve their kids an open bar, alongside Patton Oswalt, who kind of can’t believe his luck — reciting the lists of attributes women no longer care about (height, weight, income, penis size). “The apocalypse has leveled the playing field,” he announces. Dodge, on the other hand, rejects the prospect of a consequence-free fix-up with Melanie Lynskey, because, well…the reasons are pretty obvious.
And then he befriends the flighty, flaky, downstairs neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley). As riots inevitably consume the city, the two eventually embark on an end-of-the-world road trip — pausing only to grab a few records for her (Wilco on vinyl lends her more character than Keightley’s performance), and the stray dog he’s been bequeathed. He’s in search of a reunion with the girl-who-got-away and she wants to find an against-all-odds flight to England to reunite with her family.
Their respective quests are, of course, implausible, but beside the point. It’s about the journey, however brief it might necessarily be.
Along the way, they encounter William Petersen (“you’d think a lifetime of waiting for the worst to happen would’ve prepared me for this”), a guy sleeping under his doom-announcing sandwich sign (“you are looking at a vindicated man”), and a roadside tavern that’s an apocalyptic homage to Office Space‘s Choctchkie’s.
The denouement is Dickensian. Nothing happens, and yet everything does. Is there any point to enlightenment or coming-of-age in a story where happily-ever-after suddenly got a lot shorter. As it turns out, there is.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is also available on iTunes.
Movies reviewed by Ace’s Raj Ranade, now on DVD: