Monday, April 1, 2013

"Seeking a Friend..."

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” stars Steve Carrell in his first role after leaving Dunder Mifflin and Natalie Portman Keira Knightley. In a nutshell, the film is a romantic comedy about two people finding true love in the face of adversity. Also, a giant meteor is on a collision course for Earth and humanity only has three weeks left.

Upon hearing that news, Dodge’s (Carrell) wife gets out of the couple’s stopped vehicle and literally runs away from their marriage. Dodge then spends the remainder of the first act wandering around aimlessly, continuing to go to work and behaving as if imminent doom were not just days away. Near of the end of the first act, he meets Penny (Knightley), who it turns out was his neighbor for years and missed the last flight back to England to be with her family.

Luckily, Dodge knows someone with a plane who can take Penny across the pond so that she can be reunited with her family but she must first agree to help Dodge try to reconnect with his high school sweetheart, who, coincidentally, had written him a love letter some years ago that accidentally got delivered to Penny, who, after meeting Dodge, realized that she had a stack of his mail.

The pair end up going on an adventure and encounter all kinds of people preparing for their imminent doom in all kinds of ways and it is there that the film addresses topics much heavier and much more interesting than your normal, run-of-the-mill rom-com. Writer-director Lorene Scafaria actually tries to examine human behavior when rules are rendered meaningless.

During their travels, the unlikely pair comes across people behaving in all fashions. Prior to their first meeting, Dodge went to a party with family friends and came across a sex-crazed Patton Oswalt, a permanently drunk Rob Corddry, a Connie Britton who no longer cared about the sanctity of marriage, and heroin, all around. These were people behaving not how normal society expected but how those people wanted.

In an even greater setting, Dodge and Penny experienced an even darker side of humanity, as their journey began during a riot filled with all that one would expect from a riot: looting, destruction, violence, fire. Once on the road, the pair came across a TGI Friday’s-esque restaurant where the employees still showed up for work but certainly were not all there. Once again, drugs are everywhere and hamburger buns have been replaced by donuts. And then there was the overzealous cop who continued to enforce the law.

Other films have explored human behavior in the face of catastrophic doom in the past, although in most incidents, the humanity-ending catastrophe is surprisingly sudden and/or hope of aversion remains relatively high until the last minute. In “Seeking a Friend…,” however, all hope has already been removed from the situation and humanity is left to its own device.

In those other instances, the prevention of the end is the major plot point, such as was the case in “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact.”* The reaction by the general public was either not addressed or used as a plot device to show the goodness of the protagonist and the extraordinary lengths those heroic few were willing to go through for the good of mankind. “Seeking a Friend…,” took a different approach, making the behavior of society the focal point of the film.

*This has been touched on by many others in the past, but I still find it somewhat humorous when two films with similar plots and characters get released in quick succession. “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist,” two films about 19th century magicians, were both released in 2006. “Dante’s Peak” and “Volcano” both came out in 1997. This year’s hot topic seems to be White House-under-attack films. “Olympus has Fallen” was released in March and “White House Down” is slated for a release in June. I guess with ideas that good, it’s impossible not to double down.

While it is pretty much a fool’s errand to try to predict human behavior in the face of the end of time without actually facing the end of time, based on present behavior, educated guesses can be made. In “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” Scafarnia attempted to do just that and managed to tell a delightful love story in the process. And for that, she deserves a tip of the hat and a pair of eyes on the screen.


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