The elements that work best in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World are the ones that make the film unique. This supposedly-quirky comedy about the last 3 weeks of humanity on Earth contains many elements which would make another movie an enormous success (at least artistically or comedically). It is unfortunate that they are forced into a somewhat miscast, and fairly standard, romantic comedy.
Steve Carell plays Dodge (as in “get the heck out of”), whose wife leaves him in the opening moments of the film, finding out that the Earth is beyond saving. Utterly disappointed in his life, he is unsatisfied with the creature comforts of sex and drugs his friends indulge in due to the sudden and utter absence of consequence. Meeting his neighbor Penny, played by Keira Knightley, the two make a deal that if she helps Dodge find his long lost love, he in turn will help her get to her family, who she fears she’ll never get to see again. Along the way, on their road-trip through the pre-apocalyptic landscape, they encounter survivors, the suicidal, an orgy, as well as those (perhaps the most interestingly) that adamantly attempt to ignore the current situation entirely.
Unfortunately, these elements are woefully underdeveloped, choosing instead to focus on the budding romance between Dodge and Penny. What is the most interesting and unique about the film is therefore left by the wayside. It is because of that, and the fact that that the central relationship in the movie fails, that the movie cannot be considered a successful one. What the movie can do, its filmmakers don’t want to, and what they want to do the movie simply cannot pull off.
The only thing I can point to in order to explain that is the unfortunate lack of chemistry between Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. I frankly did not find them to be a convincing couple until the last few moments, which are very serious, but unjustifiably so. The previous scenes do not build up to the raw emotional honesty between the characters the last scene is meant to illicit.This causes a jarring transition. The writer/director Lorene Scafaria does not seem to have adequately identified what it is that is supposed to make the two characters fall in love, and the moments that could conceivably lead to it are simply over very quickly. Yes, there are some nice conversations and character moments, but they seem like the conversations one would likely have with anyone on an extended road-trip, and my own personal experience indicates that those rarely lead to romantic relationships as smoothly as the writer would have us believe. Steve Carell is mopey, unwilling to deal with life or stand up for himself. Keira Knightley is flighty to the point of mild annoyance. There is a brief moment of dialogue discussing the notion of opposites attracting, but I simply didn’t believe it in this instance.
Once again, there are many wonderful moments in the film, which certainly makes the viewing bearable. The really interesting elements, however, such as what would make a policeman willing to put somebody in jail for speeding in the last week before the end of humanity; or a very bourgeois dinner party of people doing heroin, are glanced over far too quickly, leaving us with a stock, and unconvincing, romantic comedy.