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kilowog [Film Festival 06.22.12] apocalyptic scifi drama romance

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It’s the end of the world as we know it, but do we feel fine? This is the questioned posed by first time filmmaker Lorene Scafaria as she presents her comedic version of the apocalypse in her directorial debut, SEEKING A FRIEND AT THE END OF THE WORLD. This doomsday scenario just so happens to be filled with ecstasy, heroin, and vintage record players. Unfortunately, its not as fun as it sounds, and the viewer is often left aching for a far less formulaic romantic comedy. In a flooded summer marketplace, this Focus Features release should expect limited returns, perhaps only finding a second life on DVD.

Opening with a healthy dose of attempted wit and sarcasm, DODGE (Steve Carrell) is an insurance salesman from New Jersey who’s as exciting to be around as you would expect him to be. He is quickly dealt a crushing blow to the proverbial testes when on the very same day an ARMAGEDDON-style rocket ship fails to destroy a doomsday meteor heading for earth, his wife up and leaves him. Actually, she literally runs away from him as fast as her legs will carry her. Only with weeks left until the utter anihilation of the planet, Dodge’s friends try to make the very most of their final days. Thanks to some fleeting, but all-star cameos by the likes of Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt, Melanie Lynskey and Connie Britton we are treated to an overwhelming and enjoyable sense of bacchanlia. However, the only one not having any fun is poor, sad Dodge.

Too timid to engage in everpresent orgies, and too depressed to believe he’ll ever have another chance at love, he drifts through old love letters, zeroing in on a long lost girlfriend. It’s when his seldom seen uber-British neighbor, PENNY (Keira Knightley), knocks on his window one evening, fleeing her own feckless romance, that she delivers to him some mail that had been piling up in her box by mistake. Hidden amongst the pile is a letter from said lost love. In the letter, she eloquently states that poor, sad Dodge was her everything after all, and if only she could see him one last time, everything would be just peachy.

Determined to get things right before he comes to his ultimate demise, the two neighbors pile into Penny’s Prius and flee the burning city. He in the pursuit of unrequited love, and she in pursuit of an airplane that will carry her overseas to see her family one last time.

Where Scafaria, the writer of NICK & NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST, succeeds is the reminder that in this big world of ours, the only thing that any of us are looking for is a bit of companionship; time or place be damned. Setting the film against the apocalypse, however, only serves to up the stakes of the film, never actually offering an inherent reason for such an event or state of logic that should accompany it. We are often left distracted during the meandering and at times, directionless road trip by the continued ridiculousness of this "tragic" event. No one ever said it would be easy to make an apocalyptic comedy feel grounded, but sometimes you need to at least try. Sight gags and goofy one-offs further remove us from the story that matters. An afternoon hitchhiking with "C.S.I." star, William Petersson, yields just such an occasion; taking up a solid five minutes of screentime for a film that comes in at barely 94 minutes. The consequences of the scene barely move the film forward, and have you scratching your head trying to remember a flyer posted early in the film, which helps justify the stupidity that has just occurred.

In SEEKING there is never a real sense of urgency or pain. Yet another cameo (how many exactly were there?) by Martin Sheen late in the third act feels just as tacked on as it looks. His appearance tries to bring the emotional core of the film full circle, but by this point we’re just dizzy from all the runaround.

The coupled talents of Knightley and Carrell bare palpable, yet stilted chemistry despite the significant age difference. Separately, her overdone (possibly embellished) accent only serve to annoy and his channeling ever other "bummed out" character he’s ever played (see DAN IN REAL LIFE) just plain . . . bum us out.

Scafaria’s noble attempt is indeed noble. Her overall direction is not without talent, just without sincerity. As a side note, the attractive Scafaria pulls off one of the most narcissitc moves in recent cinema history by placing herself in the film as Carrell’s long lost love. Self indulgent? We think so.

Have no fear moviegoer, Mandate Pictures who financed the film has yet another apocalypse comedy coming out next summer. This time its aptly titled, END OF THE WORLD and stars Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco and the rest of the "Yes, I Think I’m That Funny" crew as themselves. Assuredly, we will all be in stitches of laughter; that is unless an apocalypse kills us all first.

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j.j. (10 years ago) Reply

I pegged this as complete bullshit from the moment I saw the trailer. I'm looking forward to the much more interesting film 'Safety Not Guaranteed'.

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