Friday, June 22, 2018
Movies

Review: 'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World' sends us out laughing

By Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

The end is near. Maybe not the way people wearing sandwich boards promised, but it's coming. An asteroid is 21 days away from striking Earth and ending civilization as we know it.

Some of the doomed are getting a head start on that, indulging in freer sex and substance abuse than they dared before. Rioters and survivalists alike are feeling smug. Others are going about business as usual — mowing lawns, exercising, going to work — and the mundane never seemed so weird. A few people are opting out on their own terms, or hiring hit men for suicides by proxy.

The world is going to hell without enough time left to weave the handbasket.

In the middle of chaos are two strangers Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Dodge (Steve Carell) is an insurance wonk whose dissatisfied wife decided Armageddon was a good time to bail. Penny (Keira Knightley) is a free spirit with a great vinyl LP collection and a lousy boyfriend. Dodge wants to reconnect with a high school sweetheart. Penny wants to rejoin the stable family she flitted away from. The countdown clock is ticking.

From these dire circumstances writer-director Lorene Scafaria crafts a movie surprisingly rich in humor and heart. Even depressed moments are marked by gallows wit, as these doomsday Candides continue their personal quests together. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World has a lot of fun with humanity's worst side yet keeps an eye tenderly focused on the best aspects of us.

Scafaria displays remarkable vision and control of this material, as a first-time director with only one previous screenplay credit, the overly chatty Gen Y comedy Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. This movie isn't as self-conscious with its wit, the central characters' back stories are more skillfully revealed and side characters have purpose thanks to the what-if premise. You get to know people better when there isn't time for posing anymore.

Dodge has been fooled by posers for years, and Carell nimbly conveys his confusion as truths become clear. Dodge doesn't fall prey to the temptations of imminent oblivion — spelled out by Patton Oswalt in a magnificently profane cameo — and timid indignation is when Carell is funniest. Yet the role and the actor achieve something deeper, desperate to escape their comfort zones. Knightley is even more surprising, looser and more likeable than her performances in stuffy melodramas and bloated pirate fantasies. Less Posh Spice and more Zooey Deschanel.

Together this affably odd couple trek to whatever happens before annihilation. Whether or not they reach their goals isn't as important as how they fail or succeed. It's more amusing than you might expect, and ultimately more touching than an eroding society around them deserves. There's a sweet, clear message here: Finding our friends before the end of the world is how we should all go.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.

Comments
Three movies are in the works about Hulk Hogan and Gawker. Will they remember who’s the victim?

Three movies are in the works about Hulk Hogan and Gawker. Will they remember who’s the victim?

Sonny BunchAccording to Vulture, there are three separate movies in the works about the downfall of the New York-based gossip blog Gawker.One is based on the book Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue; it will be a...
Published: 06/21/18
What’s in theaters this week: ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ and heist caper ‘American Animals’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ and heist caper ‘American Animals’

OPENING FRIDAY:JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOMDinosaurs: Keep them alive or kill them off? It’s a question that haunts the human characters in between fireball-dodging cardio workouts in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the spectacularly ho-hum new ent...
Published: 06/20/18
‘Incredibles 2’ just might be better than the original — and a cure to superhero fatigue

‘Incredibles 2’ just might be better than the original — and a cure to superhero fatigue

It’s been 14 years since the premiere of Brad Bird’s beloved animated superhero film The Incredibles, one of the mega-hit Pixar films that cemented its reputation for film humor and heart that would satisfy both parents and children. With cool mid-ce...
Published: 06/13/18
Why is Mister Rogers making adults cry decades later?

Why is Mister Rogers making adults cry decades later?

Neighborly block party comes to downtown Tampa.
Published: 06/12/18
 ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ about Mr. Rogers is much-needed emotional tonic for troubled times

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ about Mr. Rogers is much-needed emotional tonic for troubled times

If beloved children’s television show host Mr. Rogers were once a representation of all things milquetoast, in the summer of 2018, his message of love and tolerance is not only saintly, it’s radical. In the deftly crafted documentary Won’t You Be My ...
Published: 06/12/18
Yes, ‘Ocean’s 8’ is a heist movie, but it’s also an empowering, cheeky comedy

Yes, ‘Ocean’s 8’ is a heist movie, but it’s also an empowering, cheeky comedy

Most every successful heist movie, just like a heist itself, functions by obeying a well-defined formula.First comes the setup and backstory (typically involving the righting of a wrong, to lend the subsequent lawbreaking a veneer of moral justificat...
Updated one month ago
TMZ: Last surviving munchkin from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ dies at 98

TMZ: Last surviving munchkin from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ dies at 98

The last surviving munchkin in The Wizard of Oz has died.Jerry Maren, 98, died last week at a nursing home in San Diego, according to TMZ.The cause of death for the last surviving member of the famous Lollipop Guild, made famous in the 1939 classic, ...
Updated one month ago
‘Blind Side’ star is at Tampa Theatre for a screening this weekend

‘Blind Side’ star is at Tampa Theatre for a screening this weekend

BLIND SIDE: Summer Classic Movie SeriesAll summer long, Tampa Theatre is showing classic Hollywood movies. Sunday features not only a screening of 2009’s The Blind Side, but also actor Quinton Aaron, who played Big Mike in the film, for a Q&A. Based ...
Updated one month ago
In ‘Hereditary,’ Toni Collette reveals a sixth sense for icy terror

In ‘Hereditary,’ Toni Collette reveals a sixth sense for icy terror

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy noted in a sentence so right, by the time you started arguing with it Anna Karenina was off and suffering.If Tolstoy got a look at Hereditary, he might’ve added: ...
Updated one month ago
Jodie Foster makes ‘Hotel Artemis’ first-class experience

Jodie Foster makes ‘Hotel Artemis’ first-class experience

Hotel Artemis is a shining example of how it isn’t the amount of money spent to make a movie, but how the budget is being spent. Director/writer Drew Pearce has managed to take the money that would be the cape-pressing budget for most superhero movie...
Updated one month ago