Within the last year, two films—Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia and Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day On Earth—speculated about the looming apocalypse, but from the fixed perspective of two or three characters with limited access to the outside world. It was a smart approach, because it kept the filmmakers from having to speculate too much on the chaos beyond their borders, because it’s hard to do so without seeming banal and reductive. Lorene Scafaria’s oddly winning romantic comedy Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World is often banal and reductive, and tonally schizophrenic in gauging the last three weeks before an asteroid plows into Earth. And yet tonal schizophrenia seems about right for human beings who react all sorts of ways to The End, from suicidal despair to plane-going-down orgies to small gestures of friendship and love that salvage some last comfort or meaning for the days before extinction.
After getting the news that humanity’s last hope for Armageddon-style salvation has ended in failure, Steve Carell’s wife literally runs off, leaving him to spend his last 21 days in a state of depression and denial. He tries to return to work as an insurance agent, but that seems pointless, as does a bacchanal thrown by friends that feels like a more urgent yet equally pathetic version of the key party in The Ice Storm. His life gains some purpose when he takes in two strays: an abandoned dog and a quirky neighbor, played by Keira Knightley, who has just broken up with her musician boyfriend (Adam Brody). As rioters amass outside their apartment, Carell and Knightley flee together en route to separate destinations—Carell to find the one who got away, and Knightley to catch a small plane back home to England.
Knightley is pure Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy, a vinyl-toting sparkplug who serves mostly to shake Carell from his dead-eyed stupor, but the relationship between the two becomes more touching as their wayward journey goes on. Scafaria hasn’t imagined the apocalypse with the fullness of imagination it requires, much less the weight, perhaps because, like all romantic comedies, Seeking A Friend is supposed to go down easy. But there’s real wisdom and honesty to the way this improvised friendship plays out, as both characters struggle to leave this mortal coil with some perspective and dignity. Their response is trite, but at least it’s something.