Who would have thought the apocalypse would be so boring? Seeking a Friend for the End of the World shows us the world three weeks before a huge meteor impacts Earth, threatening to wipe out humanity. People handle the news of their impending death quite differently. Some commit suicide or hire assassins to kill them when they least expect it. Some sleep with as many people as possible, without worrying about STDs or pregnancy. These people would be interesting to watch, particularly how they start to behave as the moment of impact inches closer. But never mind; writer/director Lorene Scafaria thinks it would be a lot more fun to watch a rock sink into quicksand.
That slowly sinking rock is Dodge (Steve Carell), a bored insurance salesman whose wife quite literally runs away from him at the start of the film. Dodge has no interest in engaging in any end-of-the-world debauchery like his friends around him. He laments never trying to get back together with his high school sweetheart, Olivia, instead spending countless years in a loveless marriage. With about 10 days left before the apocalypse, Dodge teams up with his young neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), and sets out on a road trip to find his lost love.
Penny is a colorful person, though compared to Dodge a grey wall looks colorful, as well. She missed the final flight home to England so that she can be with her family. Now, she is helping Dodge because he promised to introduce her to somebody with a plane who may be able to help her. Penny isn’t a wild child, thrust into the film to show the goofy contrast between her and the wet mop Dodge. (God forbid. That may have been too entertaining.) She’s the right amount of fun and sincerity that I was hoping would bring some life out of Dodge in a realistic way. In the one truly funny scene in the film, the two visit a restaurant full of ridiculous partiers to unwind a little. Here, Penny seems to bring Dodge out of his shell — a little. But shortly after, he resumes his hopeless demeanor and proceeds to bore the air around him.
There are some genuinely touching moments to be found in SAFFTEOTW, but they’re mostly lost and forgotten in a sea of dull ones. The relationship between Dodge and Penny has fleeting moments of sweetness, but more often than not, they don’t feel right for each other. They lack the chemistry needed to make this film a great romance or even a decent buddy comedy. Steve Carell is wasted as Dodge, a character written so blandly by Scafaria, he might as well have been made of cardboard. He gets no opportunities to show off his comedic skill or his ability to create a sincere moment, something he was able to do quite well in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Keira Knightley is adequate here, not doing anything that will make the Earth move. Mostly, it’s just nice to see her in a role that doesn’t require her to wear a hoop skirt and a corset.
If SAFFTEOTW is the Earth, than the film’s tone is its meteor. But unlike the meteor in the film, this one struck immediately and left no survivors behind. SAFFTEOTW wants to be a funny movie about a dark subject. Last year, this daring feat was pulled off flawlessly by the cancer comedy 50/50. That film was daring, but it worked so well I named it the best movie of 2011. SAFFTEOTW fails completely at trying to blend comedy and melodrama, primarily because it forgot the part where comedy is supposed to be funny. The restaurant scene I mentioned earlier is the only one that caused a laugh to escape me, and it was entirely due to the presence of comedian T.J. Miller as an overly friendly waiter. Every other attempt at a joke falls flat on its face, leaving the audience uncomfortable and unsure about what the film is trying to accomplish.
SAFFTEOTW marks a huge missed opportunity that could have been saved by a protagonist who wasn’t sleepwalking and a writer who is actually funny. Scafaria also wrote Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, another “comedy” about two people of the opposite sex going on an adventure to find a girl. That film was a mediocre effort, but at least it didn’t feel like a waste of time. SAFFTEOTW is a boring movie that seems to drag on forever, and it all leads to an ending that I absolutely hated. Let’s hope the real end of the world provides more thrills than this one.
My Rating: (2/10)