The concept of the end of the world is a frightening one. Not only does it mean the death of ourselves, but it also means that everyone we know will also perish. Anyone you have ever talked to, any animal that you have ever held, any baby that you have heard cry, will no longer be alive. For me, this is a frightening concept, so it is very interesting to see a comedy film tackle this subject matter. In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, the apocalypse is not shown through the eyes of a scientist or an important political figure. Instead, it is shown through the eyes of an ordinary man, making his actions, and the actions of those around him, almost instantly relatable. This is an interesting change in formula for a disaster movie, but it works thanks to a humble director and two fantastic lead performances.

When it is announced that a seventy mile wide asteroid is set to collide with Earth, Dodge’s (Steve Carell) wife leaves him and he finds himself facing the end of the world alone. Everyone around him appears to be living their final days to the fullest, but he doesn’t want any part of it. What he really wants to do is find Olivia, his first love. After a riot breaks out in the city, Dodge and his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) embark on a road trip to find something for each of them: Dodge wants to reconnect with Olivia and Penny hopes to see her family one last time.

First time director Lorene Scafaria doesn’t try to do anything flashy with her end of the world tale. She knows that the focus of the film isn’t on the asteroid; it is on Dodge and Penny. Knowing that the film was partly a romantic comedy, I was secretly hoping that the friendship between Dodge and Penny would not blossom into a romance. It would have been much less predictable and I also think that spending the end of the world with a platonic friend is an idea that has yet to be explored. But as I sat and watched these two characters spend time with each other, I ended up rooting for them to end up together. The romance in the film is handled extremely well and, despite being nearly polar opposites, the optimistic and free spirited Penny and the calm and collected Dodge seem perfect for one another.

The tone of the film ranges from goofy to downright depressing, so don’t expect as many laughs as a normal Carell flick. Still, there are a decent amount of laughs to be had, most notably in a scene where Dodge and Penny visit an overly friendly restaurant. But the best moments in the film are when there are no laughs to be found. A scene where Penny is able to call her family using a satellite phone is very bittersweet and a scene where Dodge tells a truth to a still sleeping Penny is enough to break your heart. A few more laughs in the film’s third act would have helped to balance things out a bit, but it also could have ruined the emotions setup by Scafaria.

While it may not be quite as good as his performance in Crazy, Stupid, Love, Steve Carell’s portrayal of Dodge comes very close. As an actor, Steve Carell can be instantly relatable and that is the case in this film. We feel sorry for Dodge because he cannot control the situation he has been placed in. His life is in such shambles, that the end of the world doesn’t seem as awful to him as it does to most. His performance is also very funny when it needs to be. When Penny reveals to Dodge that the key to their car is now buried underground, his reaction is one of the funniest scenes in the film. The character of Dodge rarely tries to be funny; it is his reactions to what is happening around him that provides the most laughs. Keira Knightley is an absolute delight as Penny. Her optimism makes you instantly fall in love with her character, which means that we never question Carell’s interest in her. I cannot remember the last time that Knightley lit up the screen like she does in this movie.

By crafting a love story that is sure to have a tragic demise, Scafaria may be guilty of toying with our emotions, but she does it so well that you can’t blame her for it. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is easily the best love story of 2012 to date. The more that I think about the film and the message that it is trying to send, the more of an effect it has on me. The film has a few problems that needed fixing, but the overall impression that the movie left on me trumps all of them. Audiences expecting a fun time at the movies are sure to be disappointed, but audiences expecting a poignant and touching dramedy will find something to truly treasure.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World receives 3.5/4

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