The world isn’t the only thing doomed in `Seeking a Friend’
Posted on Jun 27, 2012 in News
One doesn’t often see high-concept independent films, but I suppose if you’re going to do it, the summer is as good a time as any. Of course, only in the summer could a film starring such big names as Steve Carell and Keira Knightley be considered independent in the first place. That tends to happen when you’re opening against the latest Disney Pixar juggernaut and another high-concept, Tim Burton-produced novelty film — “Brave” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” respectively.
The second film in under a month to have a classified ad-style title after “Safety Not Guaranteed,” the more laboriously-monikered “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is proof that sometimes a title does truly tell you all you need to know.
Or, as a fellow filmgoer I talked to after the movie put it: “It’s actually about the end of the world? That doesn’t sound like very funny material for a romantic comedy.”
It’s not, particularly.
But then, I don’t think that’s what the filmmakers were going for here. Granted, there are certainly some romantic elements. The only thing predictable is the fact that you have a pretty good idea that the two leads will ultimately end up together, as per the rules of Hollywood clichés. Such rules state that you cannot have two big-name leads that don’t end up together, regardless of the set-up. Not that I’m complaining about that facet of the film exactly, as you do want to see that happen.
As implied by the title, the end of the world is indeed nigh, so for once the naysayers are actually correct. Given that it seems pretty inevitable, the last thing you would want is for our leads to end up with someone we haven’t gotten attached to over the course of the film, regardless of the set-up. That wouldn’t be much of a happy ending, right?
Yet, lest you need reminding, the film does indeed end with the end of the world, so when you think about it, all bets should be off anyway, right? Unless someone were to somehow ward off the impending apocalypse, then we’re all doomed anyway, so who really cares who ends up with whom? (Spoken like a true cynic, I know.)
But this isn’t that sort of film. In fact, it’s not really like any film I’ve ever quite seen, though perhaps “Last Night” comes close. In some ways, this is the problem. While a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of the apocalypse — I know, that old trope! — at least has originality going for it, there’s no denying that the concept doesn’t exactly lend itself to romance.
Indeed, the concept doesn’t lend itself much to comedy, either, though it scores most of its points for trying. There are a few scenes that have a gonzo charm to them that the film could have used more of, such as the amusing bits set at an end-of-the-world party.
Carell plays the sort of sad sack type he could play in his sleep- one could be forgiven for thinking he was doing so, given the overall lack of enthusiasm on his part- and Knightley plays the sort of manic pixie dream girl one would expect to find in a Cameron Crowe movie.
(Come to think of it, a much more interesting film could have been made by Crowe with this material, but I digress.)
They find themselves thrown together after Carell’s wife- played by his real-life wife, in an amusing cameo…if you get the joke- leaves him and Knightley abandons her boyfriend (“OC”-vet Adam Brody, nailing the loser BF part) in a riot. In exchange for a ride to his ex-GF’s house, Carell offers to hook Knightley up with a plane ride to her native Britain to be with her family. Romance ensues. That’s about it, really.
Given the relative originality of the premise, this could have been an amusingly warped endeavor, but the film could have used much more of the occasional go-for-broke gallows humor of the aforementioned scenarios. One gets the distinct sense that, had it allowed the impressive array of stand-up comedians and cult actors to really go for it, we might have a much more interesting and entertaining flick, but the filmmakers never quite let go of the tightly-held reins they have over the main plotline.
In short, they don’t trust the supporting cast to risk going too far, even if the concept lends itself nicely to doing just that. I mean, it’s not as if I’m suggesting, say, that Knightley’s character be assaulted or Carell’s be shot or maimed or what have you, but the film could have benefitted enormously from allowing the supporting cast- which includes such talent as Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, Amy Schumer, Connie Britton, Melanie Lynskey, T.J. Miller, and Gillian Jacobs- to do what they do best and for longer than the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it roles they mostly have here. (“CSI”-vet William Peterson does shine in a brief, but memorably dark scene, however.)
For far too much of the running time, the film is as morose and mope-y as Carell’s character, and that’s a problem for a romantic comedy. Just because the subject is admittedly dark doesn’t mean the film can’t still be funny. If only it had the courage of its convictions, and the free-for-all attitude of the small handful of scenes that show what might have been, we might have had a better film, a future cult classic. As it stands, you should be seeking another film to take a friend to, or you’ll be the one wishing for the apocalypse to come and put you out of your misery.