Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. You know, the title should have told me everything I needed to know about this movie, and I should have predicted that – in true fashion – my taste in film is going down the drain. What I mean to say is, you look at reviews of this flick on RottenTomatoes and you’ll see in a hot second that the vast majority of people don’t like it. I understand completely what they don’t like about this movie. I really, really do. That being said, I didn’t like this movie either. I absolutely loved it.
Wait. Pause. Hold the phone. Did he just say that he loved a movie that got a 55% on RottenTomatoes? Why yes, yes I did. I will admit that I got lucky with this film, because I was warned beforehand about its nature. Pitched as a romantic comedy, Seeking a Friend is quite literally anything but. Sure, it’s got funny, funny moments and there’s a positive vibe that swims around for most of the runtime. Steve Carrel is a comedic genius, and he does well in this as middle-aged Dodge, a man who’s got nothing left to lose and therefore sets out gaining everything. Still, if I had to draw a diagram of the film’s emotions, it would be a tiny sliver of cool blue humor in a wide circle of a really, really sad story.
In defense of the film and it’s odd marketing strategy, how truly funny can a movie about the end of the world be? What were people expecting, exactly? The film starts out on the premise that the world is on a countdown to utter annihilation. There’s no chance people will survive. I suppose a plot like this could be funny, and sure, the film is funny at times. But if the world is in fact ending there is going to be a lot of human drama. There are going to be riots, there is going to be heartbreak, murder and a lot of aired grievances. I think that’s what really threw people off about the movie, in the end. Ironically, the subject matter announced in the title (and hidden by the trailer) is just as heavy a you think it might be.
This film is surprisingly violent, bloody and often upsetting. Difficult scenes to accept, such as funneling alcohol into children’s mouths and wives leaving their husbands by walking out of their lives without so much as a “goodbye” come with the territory. The rioting scenes feel believable, the threat is very real. “I won’t steal anything from you if you don’t rape me,” Penny says in one scene. That sums up the kind of humor this film’s got going for it. If that sort of morbid humor isn’t down your alley…well, yes. This probably isn’t the film for you.
The heartbeat for me was in the relationship between a dog named Sorry, a sad man named Dodge and the lovable Penny (Keira Knightley), but the ideas the movie put forward I found both refreshing and – yes, I’ll go there – profoundly moving. The film juggles a very delicate question, which put very simply is this: if the world was ending in three weeks, what would you do with the time you had left? If that sounds like it opens the door for some disturbing, at times horrifying, but at other times beautiful and redeeming opportunities, you would be absolutely correct.
There are more than a couple sub-plots at work throughout this film, involving Dodge pursuing his long lost love and Penny trying to get home to her parents. The movie never quite went where I was expecting on those two fronts, even if it seemed to more than once. In that way the film was remarkably self aware. “Listen, a little sex was bound to happen, let’s not make a big deal out of it,” Penny says at one point after they get on the horizontal mambo earlier than we expect. We as viewers expect their union to be the climax of the film (no pun intended) but instead it shows up about halfway through and then sort of ends up on the side of the road for the rest of the show. Theirs is a sweet and pleasant relationship, and I found myself in love with these two on a level that I usually don’t feel for couples in movies.
This brings me to my last point. To wrap up this review, let me just say it up front. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is sad. Not just this, but it’s very, very sad. It’s about the end of the world, and a romance that unfolds with an Armageddon as the backdrop. Know this before you watch it, and you’ll like it a lot more than if you go into expecting a funny ride. The points of tenderness that emerge unexpectedly out of the woodwork will feel less like out-of-place irreverences and instead feel like small mercies. I watched this movie with the knowledge that it would be sad, and as a result it was a truly rewarding experience for me instead of a damaging one. I hope you watch it knowing what to expect. And most importantly, I hope you find in it as much healing as I did.
The Bottom Line: The victim of misleading advertising, this film is a devastating and at times sweet tale about the end of the world and the love that most of us devote our lives to dreaming about. Be warned – this is a heavy, but beautiful film.