Seeking a Friend for the End of the Worldis a lovely little film—one that's painfully funny, and drenched in rich metaphor. The premise is admirably gimmicky: With an Armageddon-size asteroid barrelling towards earth, human civilization is coming to an end in a few weeks. As expected, people the world over start panicking like wild animals. They loot, riot, and of course surrender themselves to nihilistic hedonism (feeding martinis to their toddler kids, injecting heroin at will, drunken orgies daily—basically, partying like they all just got back to Berlin after the Great War).
Dodge (played by Steve Carell), on the other hand, gets sedated and very, very mopey. So does Penny (Keira Knightley), Dodge's neighbor. In the midst of all the oh-shit-the-world's-coming-to-an-end commotion, the two strangers forge an unlikely bond, flee the city in Penny's Prius, and go on an adventure looking for Dodge's old flame. Thus kicks off their surprising road trip, set against the darkly humorous backdrop of imminent apocalypse.
Seeking a Friend serves as a welcome reminder that—during the summer season dominated by the big, the noisy, and the expensively high-tech—smaller, tender films can still stick the landing, while also maintaining a commercially accessible edge. The chemistry between Carell and Knightley is undeniable. The soundtrack is fantastic. The story is big on sentiment, and thankfully low on sap. And the movie—written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, the woman behind 2008's Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist—has indie cred coming out of its ears. Hell, even the title is too cool for school (presumably taken from the chorus of "Preaching the End of the World," an achingly beautiful song from Chris Cornell's album Euphoria Morning). [Spoiler to follow.]
That stuff is great and all, but Dodge also gets to have sex with Penny in a car in public. Which calls to mind a question: What's up with the recent trend of Steve Carell movies in which his character makes sweet, ardent love to a woman decades his junior? (The actor turns 50 in August.)
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011): There were multiple 20-something conquests, actually, presented in a montage that shows Carell's middle-aged character seducing eight different women for one-night-stand action. Furthermore, a girl who's barely old enough to sit at the grown ups' table on Thanksgiving (played by model/figure skater/actress Analeigh Tipton) tries to lure him into bed with a whole bunch of naked photos. So there's that.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012): Keira Knightley. In case you don't remember who Keira Knightley is, she is one of the world's most winsome atheists. She was 26 at the time of filming. Also, she is KeiraKnightley.
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005): Well, this one technically doesn't count, since he gets several opportunities, but passes on each one. (He ends up saving himself for the beautiful, appropriately aged Catherine Keener.) For the record, though, some of the much younger ladies in this movie come at him hard.
So what gives? Is there a my-love-interest-must-be-way-younger clause stipulated in his contract, or something? I asked Lorene Scafaria, the film's writer/director. Here's what she had to say:
He often can't believe who he's playing opposite. He's often phrased it like, "How dare I get to kiss Marisa Tomei or Keira Knightley!?" [The trend is] unfortunately not on purpose, and he probably wants to crawl out of his skin thinking about it. But nevertheless...lucky man!
So there you have it: In spite of all evidence to the contrary, Steve Carell probably doesn't have a special midlife-crisis clause in his contract. I'll update this post if any evidence suggesting otherwise emerges.
In the meantime, here's a clip of actress Gillian Jacobs (Britta Perry in Community) "rollin' pretty hard," with major cocaine eyes, during a restaurant scene with Knightley and Carell in Seeking a Friend. Like many others in this film, it's a keeper:
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World gets a wide release on Friday, June 22. The film is rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence.Click here to get local showtimes and tickets.
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Asawin Suebsaeng is an interactive writing fellow at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter. Email tips, insights, and anger to asuebsaeng [at] motherjones [dot] com. RSS | Twitter