Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Version I Watched: Redbox rental copy.

History: Was released in American theatres on June 22nd 2012. It was made with an estimated budget of $10 Million. The worldwide box office brought in just under $10 Million making this film a financial failure in the box office. A fun fact with this film is the woman who leaves Steve Carell's character at the beginning of the film is played by Nancy Carell, his real life wife.

Personal History: This is my first viewing. I had never even seen a trailer for this one. All I knew about it was the poster and a synopsis, but that was enough to get me interested.

Review: As I stated in my personal history section of the review, there wasn't a whole lot I knew about this one going into it (which I think is helpful in most films unless you're going into a sequel). There was enough to get me interested, though, based entirely on specific elements alone. For first it game me the impression of a quirky, funny perspective on the end of the world. Also one of the stars is Steve Carell who I have liked in almost everything he's done. Even dating back to The Daily Show before he hit it big with The 40 Year Old Virgin. I even really liked Dinner With Schmucks, a movie not a lot of people seemed to like. Lastly it's from Focus Features who for the most part seem to have a level head on releasing great movies. This is the same company that has produced amazing films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lost in Translation, and Coraline. There was some irony in the fact that these details are also the reason why I was a little worried about how it would turn out. Between the theme of the apocalypse, Steve Carell being really good at dramatic acting as he is at comedic acting, and the fact that it's released by Focus Features means one thing. It's gonna be a dramedy and dramedies can be really hard to pull off. I remember going through a point where I was really into them and looking back I think it's entirely because they were different, as pathetic as that sounds. So going into this while I was still interested I kept my expectations low out of worry with how it would turn out blending the comedy and the drama. No sense dodging it any longer. Time to find out if this did the trick. I do want to talk about many specific things throughout the entire film rather than generally speaking so spoiler alert.
Well I liked the way this started. It didn't pussy-foot around the apocalypse. It didn't give hope that it wouldn't happened. It just straight up said it's gonna happen and there's nothing that can be done. Excellent way to start this out cause it tells you the tone without tossing you around deciding what it wants to be. So with the world for sure going to end everything goes to hell. Dodge's (Steve Carell) wife leaves him not that she finally has an excuse (some excuse, huh?) cause she never really loved him, the world is slowly shutting down, suicide, insanity, safe to say the world is going nuts. Somehow Dodge still goes on with his daily life for a while. He goes to the gym, goes to work, and goes about his daily duties as normal. This all seems really strange with, you know, the end of the world coming. I think almost everyone reading this would blow off work to be with family and/or friends and to do things they always wanted to do. Finish off that bucket list the best they could. Keep in mind all planes at this point are grounded so my bucket list of visiting Norway and Japan couldn't be fulfilled as I'm sure your wish to finally go to Italy or the land down under. Now the weirdest part about this depressing beginning, it's hilarious! The comedy of this dramedy really come alive with a dark sense of humor in the first half. The doom and gloom scenario is being played out greatly exaggerated and it actually caused me to laugh out loud multiple times. One of my favorites being Dodge's housekeeper who keeps coming back to clean his apartment as if she doesn't know the end times is coming.
This of course all changes after a girl comes in the picture. Keira Knightley plays Penny, a young neighbor of Dodge who lives with her bum of a boyfriend. She first meets Dodge after having a breakdown out on the scaffolding outside their apartment building because she missed the last plane back to England to be with her family. She winds up staying at Dodge's place that night (nothing romantic) and that's when the quirkiness starts and so the plot pick up. Shortly after meeting she gives Dodge a pile of mail that has built up in her mailbox because the mailman kept putting it in the wrong box. In this pile Dodge finds a letter from "the one that got away" who he always loved more than the woman he actually married and found out he was the one she was always in love with. Because of the guilt of not giving him this letter right away Penny insists on helping him find her while Dodge helps Penny get to a plane that someone he knows has to get her to England.
What the story becomes as of this point is similar to a road trip movie. A series of encounters of a wide variety all providing quick scenes to entice different emotions. In part it reminded me a bit of Away We Go (a movie that I felt was highly overrated) because that was the most recent example I could think of. While on this journey they encounter a good variety of reactions to the end times. Of course while they're in the city they run into the expected riot. Then once they're on the road they find a group of people overjoyed making the best of the end times, a man who is suicide but not in a traditional sense, and of course the guys who think they can survive because they're "prepared." Not a huge variety but a good grab bag of people to work with. My favorite of all these in the comedic sense was the scene at the restaurant Friendlys. The entire staff of the restaurant is making the best of their end days by having the best time they can. This T.G.I.Fridays looking restaurant is transformed into a wild party filled with touchy-feely waiters/waitresses, wacky menu items like a burger with a donut for a bun, and pot... lots of pot. Not to mention they were all, all over each other like a massive orgy was about to break out any second. End times I guess. This was easily the part that made me laugh the hardest because it was so wacky, wild and over the top. Sadly this is one of the best parts of the whole movie and it's before the movie is half done.
As the story continues the main problem I had was there wasn't an overall feel like the world was coming to an end. At multiple parts I actually "forgot" that the world was coming to an end and it felt like just a regular road trip movie. This mostly shows when they finally get to the neighborhood Dodge was trying to get to throughout the movie. This neighborhood is pristine clean and undamaged. Wouldn't the crazies in the city expand and loot the suburbs, too? It makes so much sense to do so. Also wouldn't some of the neighbors do the same? It just felt way too peaceful in comparison to the anarchy that was presented to the audience earlier in the story. The only part that felt somewhat realistic was the abandonment. The whole neighborhood felt very empty. This makes sense although far fetched because they went to be with family, but nobody's primary family location lives in this neighborhood? I find that a little hard to believe, too. Then again this neighborhood could also be filled with folks hung from nooses or with self-inflicted gunshot wounds for all we know.
The second best but also partially one of the worst parts of the story is in the third act. I say I really liked it because it's where the drama in the dramedy really shines but it's also a not very well executed conclusion to this story. What I liked so much about the third act was Dodge reconnecting with his father who he hasn't spoken to in over twenty years. I am a sucker for these parent/child scenes in movies. I can watch a million romance films and hardly feel anything because it's something we see all the time. Now the parent/child relationship is still commonly used but it hits me harder than romance films. Honestly in the scene when Dodge and his dad reunite and his dad apologizes for being a dick after walking out on him it made me choke up a bit inside. I was all over it. This is also a great example of Steve Carell and his dramatic acting. He did a top notch job in this scene alone. And his dad who was played by Martin Sheen also did a top notch job. I was really feeling the connection. Unlike the connection between Dodge and Penny which I felt was non-existent and didn't work. You see, the main problem with the romance is as soon as you walk into this story you know they'll wind up together in the end. It's painfully predictable. I didn't know if Dodge and his dad would find each other again. It came off as exposition to explain how he got to where he was in his life at first. So when they were reunited I was excited. When Dodge and Penny found their love for each other I expected it so I didn't necessarily care. Also it didn't make sense because outside of a fun road trip and a little casual sex it didn't feel like they could develop enough of a connection to really be in love. Well, I guess there is the impending disaster to pull them together. Lastly is their age. Having a large age difference is really difficult. It didn't work in Last Chance Harvey and it didn't work here. Hell, it worked better in Lolita and that was about a ped-head. Then again that was Kubrick and Kubrick is basically the best thing to happen to the cinema ever but I digress. I don't even know what else to say here. It wasn't in my eyes a believable relationship. It would have worked to have just a close friendship for the end of the world who can help make it pass easier. Sparks of love don't have to fly, just a close friend can be enough and maybe even more rewarding. Then you're not in torture of what sort of life you could have spent together with this person you just met and fell in love with days before the apocalypse!
I know what this movie wanted to be but I felt like it didn't hit the mark. As I'm sure you, my smart reader, can assume a dramedy needs to blend together the comedy and drama in a mix where you can't tell when it goes from one to another. This story hits you hard with comedy in one scene and then switches gears so hard it's jarring. Once again as I'm shitting all over this title I will say it was not a bad movie. I've seen much worse this year. The problem with this is that it's predictable and overall pretty mediocre. I also feel it's a missed opportunity. A comedic, maybe even parody of the apocalypse could be a great dark comedy. Too bad the only option that's really available right now is this one and it's not up to snuff. Again, not terrible. There are some very funny parts and superb performances. Also you can see all the wild ways Keira Knightley twists and twirls her face (Seriously, most of the time she is a gorgeous woman but then she makes these faces that looks like she was just twist and twirled through a blender). Again, not a bad movie, probably worth a lazy Sunday afternoon redbox rental for the performances alone. It won't be much of a miss if you don't get to it, though.
As a quick side note, watching this also made me think of Melancholia, another end times film. Unfortunately I found that one to be disappointing as well but when you're going into a Lars Von Trier film you tend to expect quality. Not to mention it was right after Antichrist which was amazing. I'll probably do a full Melancholia review one day but for now a quick comment. Between Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and Melancholia I can't help but find it ironic that the apocolypse films as of late have been a disappointment, what with the Mayan calendar ending soon.

(No I don't believe the world is coming to an end this month)

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