Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #601
Number of Views: One
Release Date: June 22, 2012
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Producers: Steve Golin, Joy Gorman, Mark Roybal, Steven M. Rales
Screenplay: Lorene Scafaria
Cinematography: Tim Orr
Score: Jonathan Sadoff, Rob Simonsen
Editing: Zene Baker
Studios: Mandate Pictures, Indian Paintbrush
Distributor: Focus Features
Stars: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Adam Brody, Derek Luke, William Petersen, Martin Sheen, Melanie Lynskey, Tonita Castro, Mark Moses, Connie Britton, Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, Rob Huebel, Gillian Jacobs, T.J. Miller, Amy Schumer, Jim O’Heir, Nancy Carell, Roger Aaron Brown
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 R.E.M. “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”
 The Walker Brothers “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)”
 The Hollies “The Air That I Breathe”
Here’s one for you. What would you do if the world was projected to end in just a few weeks? Forget any last-ditch Armageddon-style bail-outs; let’s imagine that mankind is categorically fucked for a moment. Would you…
A) Seek out those you cherish most and see out your last few days on Earth reminding them just how much you love them at every available opportunity?
B) Extend your middle finger to society and indulge every last ludicrous impulse that you would ordinarily attempt to suppress? You know – guilt-free sex, excessive drug taking, public nudity, looting, getting a swastika tattooed on your labia – the customary shenanigans when the apocalypse is looming.
C) Live in a constant state of absolute denial, sit tight, and pretend like nothing has changed while everyone else around you continue to lose their heads?
D) Slide into the tub and drop a four-slice toaster into the bubbles for the ultimate in quick fix?
If your answer is D, then remind me to dig out a help line number for you, as there’s no way I’m sharing your bath water. Each of the other three options, on the other hand, would be understandable responses given the enormity of what is being forecast. I don’t possess a labia so reckon I’d opt for seeking out those I cherish most and living in a constant state of denial altogether while awaiting the inevitable big bang.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World marks the directorial debut of Lorene Scafaria, who previously penned the screenplay for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and tackles this very topic. Not traditionally the kind of film that I choose to appraise, I felt compelled to write this after reading a scathing observation from one highly respected critic that made me weep for all humanity and reminded me why I took this gig in the first place. More on that later but first I feel obliged to redress the balance some as this wonderful little movie managed to slip past many of us undetected and I simply cannot allow that to happen on my shift. In and out of multiplexes in the time it takes a meteor to crack, Scafaria’s tragicomic wonder struggled to recoup its original $10 million outlay and I guess there really is no justice as its bittersweet tale is beautifully observed and as life-affirming as it is ultimately heart wrenching.
With an incoming asteroid hurtling towards Earth and a mere twenty-one days from critical impact, it’s shit or get blown clean off the pot time for the frantic residents of New York City. The bad news is being delivered by news broadcast and there’s no silver lining to this particular story. In short, three weeks from now, the entire planet will become smithereens and life as we know it will terminate effective immediately.
While this revelation elicits precious little response from floundering fortysomething insurance salesman Dodge Petersen (Steve Carell), his wife Linda (real-life spouse Nancy) is disgusted by his indifference and far less inclined to take this bummer in her stride. Thus she promptly ups and leaves his raggedy ass, presumably heading straight to the nearest tattoo parlor to become an honorary Nazi. We’re better off without her huh Dodge? Dodge?
Okay so it appears that poor Dodge has taken being cast aside a little to heart as he’s currently flat on his back in the park after snarfing back a concoction of codeine-laced cough syrup and domestic window cleaner. Other than that, it’s hard to know what’s going on in that mind of his as the primary emotion appears to involve general comatose. Flitting uncomfortably between utter dejection and not possessing the remaining energy to display utter dejection, Dodge is all about option C and all set to spend his last few days on Earth in absolute denial, sit tight, and die alone as he is seemingly intended to. Depressed yet? Lest we not forget that this is Carell we’re speaking of here; a man whose lousy runs of misfortune historically equate to our immense enjoyment.
Let’s take a brief glance at Carell’s résumé and search for any recurring themes shall we? He played a socially awkward boss in The Office, socially awkward jilted husband in Crazy, Stupid, Love., socially awkward harmless nutbag in Dinner for Schmucks, socially awkward criminal mastermind in Despicable Me, one half of a socially awkward couple in Date Night, socially awkward spy in Get Smart, socially awkward widowed father in Dan in Real Life, socially awkward reincarnation of Noah in Evan Almighty, socially awkward suicidal uncle in Little Miss Sunshine, socially awkward middle-aged sex novice in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, socially awkward and mentally challenged weatherman in Anchorman, and squirrel in Over The Hedge (one of the most socially awkward creatures in God’s green kingdom I might add). It’s not that we wish to see him suffer, more that he just does it so dang well.
For the record, here he plays a socially awkward man wound so frigging tight that it’s bound to give before the twenty-one days are up and he just needs a gentle nudge in the right direction. To his credit, he is searching for absolution although, with “friends” offering no true consolation and wrapped up in their own fate-enforced midlife crisises, and with nobody else on-hand to pour his bleeding heart out to, what’s the point in exerting himself? To be fair, he’s not quite alone as his apparently oblivious cleaning lady also refuses to deal and keeps showing up for work just as bushy-tailed as ever. But with these frustrating interactions the highlight of his day, the other twenty can’t come soon enough for Dodge.
That is until he notices his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) sobbing on his fire escape and takes her in to offer her tears a shoulder. She is all about option A and desperate to find a way of spending her remaining time with her family in England but, thanks to her self-absorbed live-in boyfriend Owen (Adam Brody), that ship seems to have sailed leaving her just as utterly forlorn as he is.
Considering misery loves a sleepover, Dodge wastes no time in making Penny feel at home and she repays him by handing him a three-year bundle of undelivered mail which she never got round to delivering to its rightful address. With his social calendar reading like John Doe’s obituary, Dodge rifles through the correspondence and happens across a three-month-old letter from the one that got away, Olivia, explaining that he is “the love of her life”.
Finally he has something to live for, to fight for, to undertake a time-sensitive cross-country road trip with a young girl half his age who he barely knows from Adam for. So when riots break out in the vicinity, he pitches Penny a poser that she’d be foolish not to take seriously and it also provides her the opportunity to rectify her balls-up with the mail. In return for her assistance in tracking down his precious Olivia, Dodge is prepared to put her in touch with someone who can fly her privately to the coordinates she craves. It’s a no-brainer and the odd couple hit the road post-haste bound for his hometown in Delaware. Needless to say, Dodge is having a hard time shaking the persistent funk that follows him around like heat-seeking herpes, but it isn’t long before he begins to see beyond Penny’s flaky front and an unlikely friendship develops.
The road to true enlightenment is far from uncluttered and there’s incident awaiting them at every click on the map. From running out of gas, to hanging out with a passing motorist (William Petersen) with the most literal kind of death wish, being implicated in an all-you-can-eat orgy at a fast food restaurant, bumping nasties in the back of a pick-up truck, and waking up incarcerated, the journey is anything but uneventful and Penny eventually wears down his most stubborn of defences and zips in with a bullet to his list of all-time favorite people, not that she has to see off a great deal of competition. The fact remains that Dodge now feels genuine affection and, when you consider that it would take around 10,000 volts fast-tracked to his ball sack to raise a solitary eyebrow until now, that’s some achievement.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World already had me at hello but, as the pair bumble their way towards a truly affecting third act, my already strong feelings towards this movie went into hyperdrive. You see, after gatecrashing a tender beach front marriage ceremony brimming with devotion, they detour to Dodge’s family home and estranged father Frank (Martin Sheen) and the enormity of his personal sacrifice becomes abundantly clear.
While not totally at-ease with forgiving and forgetting the negligible actions of his father many moons ago, he is more than prepared to take this one for the team and completely forego his own happiness to see Penny realize her dream. I was already aware that I was in grand company, but it was about this time that Scafaria’s film reached into my chest and gently massaged my heart, continuing to do so until the emotionally charged and truly mercurial final frame.
Carell and Knightley are magnificent here; he as world-weary but inherently decent sad sack and she as flighty extrovert with a tendency to make humongous boo-boos and boo hoo about them afterwards. If the personal journey that both of them undertake is significant, then it’s the way they grow together during their time-sensitive road trip that’s truly spectacular. Astonishingly, this was entirely lost on some of the film’s detractors and, after reading “I never rooted for them as a couple, never felt a chemistry in their bond” during one such reprisal, I desired only to embark on a trip of my own to Rolling Stone magazine and brain the unfeeling plank responsible. Granted, we’re all entitled to our own opinions, but seriously? No chemistry? Perhaps you watched the wrong screener? The scary thing is that some may take these words as bond and avoid Scafaria’s film as a result of a single woefully misjudged remark.
Anyhoots, enough with the ranting, there are far more pressing matters at hand like the imminent end of life as we know it. Movies like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World don’t come around every day as what could have amounted to little more than a quaint commute through picturesque pastures ends up so much more. Filled with intimacy and warmth, it finds time to touch on such values as family and forgiveness, but it’s the notion of two people sharing such an unexpected bond and offering bona fide kindness in the face of the ultimate curtain call that really leaves its imprint. Ironically, while Scafaria is essentially telling a boy meets girl story where forever simply isn’t an option, she somehow reminds us that it could still be on the cards after all and I raise my glass in salute to such endeavor. The end is nigh you say? Well I say bring it asteroid!
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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