DIRECTED BY LORENE SCAFARIA
STARRING: STEVE CARELL, KEIRA KNIGHTLEY, MELANIE LYNSKEY, ADAM BRODY, ROB CORDDRY, TONITA CASTRO, DEREK LUKE, T.J. MILLER with PATTON OSWALT, NANCY CARELL and MARTIN SHEEN
Lorene Scafaria wrote and directed ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ that starred Kat Dennings, Michael Cera and Ari Graynor. You can almost see that in the premise of her new film ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.’ A woman who is in control of an existing relationship meets a man who isn’t. The difference here is that now he has the option to not want to do anything about it. Nick O’Leary (Cera’s character in ‘Nick and Norah’) needed mending. Dodge Peterson, (Steve Carell) on the other hand, awaits doomsday. The least he can do is sit tight.
The thing about casting Steve Carell is that you’d find the character hollowed beyond what you’d have intended him to be. Dodge has just had his wife (played, incidentally, by Carell’s real wife Nancy Carell) drop him like he’s got dirt all over. He goes over to a friend’s place in the aftermath. The friend’s wife, initially, sets him up with a friend of hers (Melanie Lynskey) who intends to get the best out of the rest of her days. She then makes a pass at him herself. “Linda (Dodge’s wife) got to do what she wanted to do,” she says. “Why not me?” Dodge is dumbstruck. His only answer is to jump the fence and run away. He does exactly that.
Penny (Keira Knightley) is introduced to us before she’s introduced to Dodge. We have a shot of her leaving her boyfriend (Adam Brody) as he clings to the door like it’s her, not letting go. Her hair short, Knightley reminded me of her character in ‘Love Actually,’ Richard Curtis’ collage of love stories. She’s from England – not New England, old England – and has an accent. That’s about the only thing about her that is strange in a character that is archetypical American. Emily Blunt was an example in ‘the Five-Year Engagement.’ I don’t know if it’s a trend, but if it is, it’s worth noticing.
The film begins like it’s going to hang loose on an existential thread, but quickens to define a task for itself by means of its lead characters. Dodge comes across a letter that hadn’t quite reached him, from a high-school sweetheart by the name of Olivia. “Is she the one that got away?” Penny asks him. “Well, they all got away,” he responds, with Carell’s defeatist smile. “She was just the first one.” In that letter, needless to say, Olivia expresses undying love that had just resurfaced, given recent events. Having mentioned he hasn’t got the time or energy to handle ‘someone new,’ Dodge fixates on a past that he intends to bring to whatever remained of a future.
Penny, on the other hand, calls it quits – something we see right through. It’s not even the usual movie-resolution. “I haven’t seen two people as much in love as they (her parents) are,” she says, when she insinuates that that’s what had possibly had her set such high standards for herself. 21 days wouldn’t be enough to find the one. Knightley works like a miracle in both aspects of frivolity and intensity that doesn’t help a character who finds herself in the most predictable of positions. There is, for instance, a sequence where Penny takes Dodge to Speck (Derek Luke), another ex-boyfriend, who claims he knows her enough to know she’s a “survivalist, more than a romantic,” and hence would choose to stay with him. You smirk because you know better.
The writer, you find, distorts characters with whims of her own. Is it like Dodge to have his Dad (Martin Sheen) fly her back to where she’s from? Debatable. But mostly, yes. Is it like Penny to come back? You don’t know, for Penny isn’t Penny anymore. The end of the world is bound to do strange things to those who are to face it; perhaps more to those who want to write about it. Lars Von Trier showed us with his ‘Melancholia.’ ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ could’ve been better if only the ‘end of the world’ part was driven home stronger. What we have looks like a meta-narrative of two characters who are, slowly, becoming aware that their film is going to end. And they simply had to do what the author intended them to do – one shaken out of her skin because she doesn’t know what she’s doing, the other ‘madly in love’ for he’s known to be resolute.
Yet again, Scafaria evokes memories of another film that you’d almost think she has tried to implicate it. Penny asks Dodge to not let her fall asleep. In ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ Clementine (Kate Winslet) asks Joel (Jim Carrey) to not let her sleep so she can cling to her memories – the last she has of them together. Penny’s excuse is hypersomnia. She says she could sleep through an apocalypse and not know the world had ended. But she couldn’t sleep through a flight back home, which means she wouldn’t sleep through an apocalypse. Dodge doesn’t have to do anything. It’s all the work of the end of days - on two promising characters and a writer who shows promise, but in flashes.