Monday, November 5, 2012

Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

There are two things one can surmise from watching the career of Steve Carell.  The first is that the Hollywood believes he has two gears as an actor– either the not-so-bright, overly nonsensical funny man or the disenchanted, disengaged sad sack loner.  The second things you can surmise is that Carell agrees with this assessment.  Now it’s a bit of the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum in regards to how you weigh these two statements, but regardless, if you look at his body of work you can put almost all of his roles into one of these two buckets.  In Seeking a Friend for the End for the World, Carell’s performance continues this trend.

The plot of the movie is set against the backdrop of the arrival of an asteroid that promises to bring about the end of the world as we know it (hence the title).  Carell plays Dodge, a down on his luck insurance salesman, who is dealing with a recent break up and the mediocrity of his life while civilization begins to crumble around him.  He meets Keira Knightley’s Penny and the two embark on a journey to reunite Carell with the love of his life and to get Penny back to her family in England. 

Writer/director Lorene Scafaria puts together a film that is a little too ambitious for its own good.  On the one hand the film tries to act as a commentary about social norms via the end of the world backdrop.  On the other hand, it is also a personal journey about making amends and coming to terms with the life one has led.  But really, at its core it’s a romance film wrapped up in a road trip narrative.  If this sounds like two too many layers for one movie to pull off, then you have company in this opinion. 

Carell and Knightley perform well as Dodge and Penny as neither are asked to pull anything off on screen that they haven’t already done in the past and their chemistry provides some genuinely lovely moments.  The personal baggage of their characters, their sense of loss, and their personal journeys are what works best about the movie.  Everything outside of that feels juvenile, second rate, and ultimately muddles the tone of the film.  Good actors like Rob CorddryConnie BrittonPatton Oswalt, and William Petersen are relegated to roles that were probably meant to be satirical by design, but come off as awkward and forced.  It is a waste of good acting talent.

I would not say that this is a great movie, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a bad one either.  Underneath the attempts at satire and not-so-clever witticism is a really nice story.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that the narrative would have been better served had the “end of the world” gimmick been scrapped in favor of a more conventional catalyst to spark the events of the film.  Still the question remains, is the film worthy of a recommendation despite its flaws?  Yes, but just barely.  On a slow weeknight with no alternatives, this could be a serviceable rental (except for those who are total movie adrenaline junkies).  But be warned, this film is by no means a candidate for “the feel good movie of the year” award, but you probably already figured this out from the title of the movie.  

Next up for Knightley is the greatly hyped Anna Karenina opposite Jude Law and for Carell a whole slew of movies (5) before the much anticipated Anchorman: The Legend Continues.

Standout Performance: Keira Knightley gets the nod for her portrayal of Penny – a quirky yet utterly endearing woman.  She shines onscreen opposite Carell’s drab-by-design performance.


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