As the proposed end date for civilization as we know it comes closer and closer to being upon us, it seems only appropriate that Mandate Pictures would sanction a film like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Being that this is writer-director Lorene Scafaria’s first major film in the role of director, her sensitivity to the nature of the script (which she also wrote) and attention to detail in terms of emotional subtleties makes one wonder why she waited four years to put forth new material (Scafaria, exhibiting a love for long movie titles, adapted the screenplay for 2008′s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist).
Beginning at the end, so to speak, Dodge Petersen (Steve Carell) sits somberly in his car with his wife, Linda (Carell’s real life wife, Nancy Carell), as they listen to the announcement that a space mission to derail a seventy mile wide asteroid called Matilda failed, signaling the end of days in a matter of weeks. This prompts Linda to bolt for the door and run away from Dodge as fast as she possibly can. Such bravado is merely the first example in a series of instances displaying how people would truly act if they had the freedom of no consequences. As Dodge comes to terms with the fact that his wife never truly loved him, he goes about his daily routine without modifying any of his behavior accordingly for the world’s imminent demise–until he finds Penny Lockhart (Keira Knightley) sobbing uncontrollably on his fire escape.
Wiping her tears away, Penny accepts Dodge’s offer to come inside under the condition: “I won’t steal anything if you don’t rape me.” He responds, “Agreed.” As he invites her into his home, Dodge has no idea of the antics he is about to invite into his life–and how worthwhile those antics are going to be for his self-fulfillment during the final days of human existence. Sitting down to explain why she has been crying, Penny confides to Dodge that her life has consisted mainly of providing a non-stop set of disappointments to her family, especially her father, in that she always chose whichever boyfriend she was with at the time over going back to visit England to spend time with the people who love her unconditionally. As she finishes telling him all of this, she notices a box of open photos he has been going through, one of them being a picture of him and his high school girlfriend, Olivia, a mythical sort of woman we never actually get to see in person.
Encouraging Dodge to find Olivia now that he has nothing to lose, the parameters of Penny and Dodge’s relationship are set up as a clear-cut friendship. Penny even feels comfortable enough letting herself fall asleep on his couch before explaining to him that she can fall asleep for insane amounts of time and not be woken up by anything (except the sweet taste of pot). And, since she just broke up with her boyfriend, Owen (the always humorous Adam Brody), she doesn’t feel all that inclined to return to their shared apartment. The next day, when they part ways, Penny says that maybe she’ll see him around and then just happens to mention 1) She always saw his “roommate” (a.k.a. his wife) with her boyfriend and they seemed so happy together and 2) She kept forgetting to give him all of the mail that had accidentally been put into her mailbox.
In one fell swoop, Penny crushes his emotions in a two-pronged way by unwittingly informing him that his wife was cheating on him and by withholding a letter from Olivia in which she confesses that he was the love of her life. Driven to the brink of his misery, Dodge tries to kill himself with a bottle of window cleaner his cleaning woman told him to get, only to wake up unscathed with an abandoned dog at his side. Resigned to sticking it out until the end of the world, Dodge can’t help but warn Penny and Owen to get out of their apartment building before it gets raided by one of the many angry mobs that have sprung up across the city.
Ultimately, leaving Owen behind after Dodge tells Penny that he knows a man with a plane that can get her to her family so long as she gives him a ride to find Olivia, a road trip is quickly set in motion–and just as quickly halted when Penny realizes she didn’t fill up her gas tank. With each new challenge that arises in their quest to get to their respective destinations, Penny and Dodge grow undeniably closer, their relationship transforming in unexpected ways.
The film, punctuated by undertones of sadness and missed opportunity, possesses a soundtrack that matches it perfectly. From the Beach Boys to Frank Black to The Hollies, there are moments when the music feels like a character of its own, particularly as the movie draws to a close and the bittersweetness of finding love only to have to lose it is in full effect with the advent of the asteroid. And yet, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, in spite of its sorrowful ending, manages to be one of the best love stories of 2012. So at least if the world does end this December, there was one last quality romance on the silver screen.