Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Fri, Jul 13, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Lorene Scafaria. Starring Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Melanie Lynskey, Derek Luke, Patton Oswalt, Martin Sheen 15A cert, general release, 101 min

The stars gel surprisingly well in this intimate tale of ordinary people carrying on to the bittersweet end, writes TARA BRADY

LEST THERE BE any generic confusion: when Steve Carell pops up sporting one of the more sat-upon expressions from the hangdog spectrum, and counting down the days until a giant, no-fooling asteroid hits the earth, then you’re watching a dramedy.

Don’t freak out. An apocalyptic post-Lost in Translation romance between Carell and Keira Knightley may sound like a chore – on paper either party might be matched up with a zebra with a greater degree of success. But in practice they’re a winning team.

As the movie’s meterorite hurtles ever closer, Carell’s sad- sack hero Dodge is abandoned by his wife and pursued by a keen, unwanted Miss Lonelyhearts (Melanie Lynskey). Society crumbles into an orgy of violence, rioting and, well, orgies.

“How about we double-stuff that cookie,” suggests Dodge’s debauched friend (Young Adult’s Patton Oswalt) unhelpfully. Dodge, meanwhile, continues to drive to the office every day to have pointless exchanges with clients about the limitations of their insurance policy.

He meets his equally distressed British neighbour, Penny (Knightley), by chance. A disorganized, bohemian type, Penny has missed the last flights across the Atlantic and won’t get to say “goodbye” to her family. She also holds a vital, wrongly delivered piece of mail that will send her and Dodge off on a final, quirky road trip.

Lorene Scafaria, the screenwriter behind Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, makes a charming directorial debut with Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Borrowing some lo-fi, sci-fi cues from films such as Primer and Another Earth, Scafaria’s focus stays intimate and earthbound.

Tellingly, there are no lingering shots of the sky or the fateful asteroid. We’re treated instead to gallows humour and a race between romance and a doomsday clock. A relentless countdown, related mostly through intertitles, jollies the film along even when the journey gets tangential.

Knightley proves herself Carell’s equal when it comes to mournful comedy. Casting aside her penchant for playing brittle, fragile, otherworldly creatures, she’s a lively manic pixie girl sparking off her co-star’s crumpled energy.

It helps that Tim Orr’s free- wheeling lensing and Scafaria’s nous for intimate moments cocoons Carell and Knightley while everybody else loses it.