Friend is too timid, plays things too safely, and shows us why post-apocalyptic insurance policies have their drawbacks.
If the world were to end in three weeks, how would you spend it? Would you go to work to keep consistency? Maybe spend time with family? SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD doesn't delve into that question too deeply, but instead lumbers rather weakly through a script that wants to be quirky/serious, yet never finds its rhythm and fails to convince audiences it's worth their time to bother.
An asteroid named Matilda is about to hit the Earth, and insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carell, 40-Year Old Virgin) has just witnessed his wife leave him to indulge herself in the final days, literally getting out of the car and running off. Dodge's boring life is immaculate and pristine, yet he's never taken the big chances, opting for safety and security in his job and marriage. He meets the spirited 26-year-old neighbor Brit Penny (Keira Knightley, Pirates of The Caribbean series), who has just broken up with her boyfriend. Her character seems peeled off from John Cusak's High Fidelity: a pot-smoking vinyl record collector and a headcase who suffers from hypersomnia (can't wake up once she starts sleeping), which is conveniently used as an eighth-inning plot point. Dodge learns that his high school sweetheart Olivia is trying to reach out to him, and so with Penny in tow he sets out to find her. There are some funny scenes along the way, including a couple of cameos and a journey to a local restaurant where everyone seems tripped out on drugs, serving unique combinations of dishes on the menu. It's a funny scene, but we don't have time for laughing as the dower Dodge has to find his lost love. Eventually, he mysteriously realizes that he must make a choice between Olivia and car-mate Penny, who he has fallen for along the way. Like we didn't see that one coming - the couple's "opposites attract" exchange midway through arrives just in time to address this seemingly large plot hole. Dodge knows that Penny would like to see her family in London one last time, and so the two make a trip to see Dodge's father who left the family 25 years ago (cue cameo #2) but conveniently owns a plane to get Penny home. While these scenes with dad are fairly touching, it's just a play for the end of the film with no real closure for son and father. As the world comes to an end, audiences will no doubt debate the end of Friend, which I suppose is the point, but it won't make you feel any better to do so.
Friend suffers from several avoidable but critical errors which ultimately ruin the film. Our improbable leads give off zero chemistry, with Carell arriving with nothing more than a mix of his characters from The Office and Crazy, Stupid, Love. He's really a black hole, sucking all of Knightley's high energy and charm with his blank stares and boring comments about the world coming undone and the choices he's made. Director Lorene Scafaria, who makes her debut with Friend, can't seem to wake Carell out of his melancholy funk, leaving us to wonder if she should have chosen a more dynamic male who knows how to play boring at the right times to Knightley's quirkiness. But it's not the only thing that betrays Friend: the ending is so clearly established that our leads will fall in love from the First Act that it's simply a matter of how they will get there. Granting the audience such clairvoyance is not a bad thing, so long as you keep them invested in the characters. Sadly, this fails to happen, as there's not enough time in the 101-minute movie to form a real bond between Penny and Dodge, opting instead for the ease of falling in love because the world is ending rather than seeking a real partner to die with. Other storytelling snafus rear their ugly heads: minus a few riots, the world seems strangely low-key in preparing for the end, with people still mowing their lawns and trying to maintain order. We're left with a montage of oddly low-key and emotionally peaceful events of happy people celebrating the end of the world as Carell limps his way through the script before settling on the girl next door. Once that happens, these intended touching scenes merely come off as more uncomfortable than destined. I didn't realize that the end of the world would be so soft, gentle, and boring; but Friend doesn't have the wherewithal to suggest more than that. I have to admit that Scafaria shoots a nice scene and will probably go on to make good films, but she's not there yet as a writer, as Friend never finds its voice beyond the standard and silly WTF moments of a world about to end.
Friend betrays itself with an uneven story and the miscasting of Steve Carell. The enormous possibilities which Scafaria has at her command become lost fairly early, turning funny quirk to dreary and to an ultimately unsatisfying conclusion, with Carell sneaking back into Penny's apartment to play The Walker Brothers' "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)." According to the Mayans, we don't have long to wait before the real end arrives - get your bucket list, album titles, and dinner plans ready but find a better film than this one to enjoy on your last days. Seeking a Fiend for The End of The World is rated R for sexual situations and language.
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