Wednesday, May 23, 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
What’s in theaters this week: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story,’ Art and Short Film Mini-Fest

What’s in theaters this week: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story,’ Art and Short Film Mini-Fest

SHORTS: Art and Short Film Mini-FestA fundraiser for the [email protected] brings an Art and Short Film Mini-Fest to the studio tonight. There will be four short films, an exhibit of artwork by Corinne Leavengood and photography by Diana Lucas Leavengood. P...
Published: 05/23/18
Cress Williams of ‘Black Lightning’ talks Season 2, being recognized as a superhero before MegaCon Orlando

Cress Williams of ‘Black Lightning’ talks Season 2, being recognized as a superhero before MegaCon Orlando

No matter what Cress Williams does the rest of his acting career, he’ll always be remembered as the first to play Black Lightning.The 47-year-old actor with roles on ER, Grey’s Anatomy and Friday Night Lights is now that face of a DC comics franchise...
Published: 05/22/18
The young Han Solo movie is here. And let’s just say a robot is the best part.

The young Han Solo movie is here. And let’s just say a robot is the best part.

Washington PostSolo: A Star Wars Story begins with the Star Wars franchise’s signature tag line, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." But it seems like only yesterday that the title character met his end in The Force Awakens, the first insta...
Published: 05/21/18
What’s in theaters: ‘Deadpool 2,’ ‘Book Club,’ a Pope Francis documentary and STEM movies

What’s in theaters: ‘Deadpool 2,’ ‘Book Club,’ a Pope Francis documentary and STEM movies

CinemaSTEM: Best in ShowTampa Theatre is making science, technology, engineering and math the star of its new CinemaSTEM movie series. The historic movie house will pair popular films with experts talking about some of the science that pops up in the...
Published: 05/16/18
‘Deadpool 2’ cracks jokes at the expense of nearly every intellectual property in the DC and Marvel universes

‘Deadpool 2’ cracks jokes at the expense of nearly every intellectual property in the DC and Marvel universes

When Deadpool referred to Cable as "Thanos," the guy sitting next to me lost it. Because, you know, Thanos is the name of the villain in Avengers: Infinity War who is played by Josh Brolin, who also plays Cable, who is mostly the villain in Deadpool ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/17/18
A Plant City movie to make history by becoming first released on a blockchain

A Plant City movie to make history by becoming first released on a blockchain

When making his latest feature film, director and producer Jeremy Culver went old school in this digital age, shooting No Postage Necessary on 35-millimeter. But when it came to distributing the movie to the masses, Culver went new school. Sonew sch...
Published: 05/11/18
11 royal films to watch before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s big day

11 royal films to watch before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s big day

It’s safe to say Meghan Markle took the road less traveled on her way to becoming British royalty. For starters, she’s American (an Angeleno, to be specific). Second, she’s an actress (not exactly a noble profession, no offense Hollywood). And last b...
Published: 05/10/18
What’s in theaters this weekend: ‘RBG,’ ‘Life of the Party,’ ‘Breaking In’

What’s in theaters this weekend: ‘RBG,’ ‘Life of the Party,’ ‘Breaking In’

INDIE FLICKS: RBGThe notion of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the diminutive and soft-spoken Supreme Court justice, as a judicial "rock star" — at least in the eyes of progressives who love her sharply worded dissents to opinions rendered by the increasingly c...
Published: 05/09/18
Sing along to ‘The Little Mermaid’ and catch Telluride’s Mountainfilm Festival in St. Pete Beach

Sing along to ‘The Little Mermaid’ and catch Telluride’s Mountainfilm Festival in St. Pete Beach

FILM FEST: Telluride’s Mountainfilm Festival on TourA roving iteration of the famous short-film showcase in Telluride, Colo., the Mountainfilm Festival on Tour makes a stop at the Don CeSar Hotel this weekend. The intent of the tour is to help spread...
Updated one month ago
May the Fourth be with you: 8 places to celebrate Star Wars Day in Tampa Bay

May the Fourth be with you: 8 places to celebrate Star Wars Day in Tampa Bay

It started as a joke among Star Wars fans who would greet each other with the calendar pun, "May the Fourth be with you." But now Star Wars Day has morphed into a full-fledged holiday that falls on a Friday this year. And some Jedi masters are throwi...
Updated one month ago