An apocalyptic love story is unique, but not an entirely new concept. There was 1988’s Miracle Mile with Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham searching for one another in a chaotic Los Angeles under the threat of impending nuclear war. You could also count Don McKellar’s Last Night, about intersecting lives in Toronto on their very last night on Earth. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist), Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a bit more bright and hopeful or as bright and hopeful as a movie can be when it’s about Armageddon. Let’s just say it’s on the opposite spectrum of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia.
Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck won’t be saving anyone. The film opens with the dour announcement that a cataclysmic asteroid is about to collide with Earth and a last-ditch effort by NASA to divert it has failed. Insurance salesman Dodge Petersen (Steve Carell) gets another shock when his wife, Linda (played by Carell’s real-life spouse Nancy) suddenly exits the car and runs off into the night without a word. Dodge stumbles into a numb daze while his friends throw wild parties. Eventually, he forms a friendship with Penny (Keira Knightley), the free-spirited girl next door. It turns out that Penny has been holding on to some of Dodge’s mail for months, including a letter from an old flame.
As riots break out across the city, Penny agrees to help Dodge find his former high school sweetheart in exchange for getting her to England to be with her family. Accompanied by a scruffy little dog named Sorry, they embark on an epic road trip where they encounter an assortment of eccentric characters such as a trucker (William Peterson) who has decided to die via hired assassin and a military man (Derek Luke) fully stocked and prepared for the apocalypse.
It’s a safe bet that no matter what Dodge and Penny will wind up together. The A-story may be a tad predicable, but Carell and Knightley make for a winning couple. They’re likeable enough that you root for them on their cross-country adventure. Just as he’s done in Little Miss Sunshine and Dan in Real Life, Carell gives an understated performance that mixes pathos with a dry wit. Knightley brings warmth to the role of Penny. Some critics have described her as the dreaded ‘manic pixie dream girl,’ perhaps because she totes around a collection of vinyl records like a safety blanket. Thankfully, Penny does not display the typical quirks of the archetype though she does resemble a pixie with her short hair and petite frame.
In addition to the leads, Scafaria has assembled a wonderful supporting cast that includes Rob Corddry, Connie Britton, Patton Oswalt, Melanie Lynskey, and Amy Schumer as Dodge’s party pals. There’s also Adam Brody as Penny’s dim-witted musician boyfriend and Martin Sheen in an emotional turn as Dodge’s estranged father. Gillian Jacobs and T.J. Miller cameo as the wait staff of a TGIFriday’s type establishment that has descended into full-blown hedonism. But, some of the funniest scenes involve Dodge and his maid (Tonita Castro), who seems absolutely oblivious to the fact that all life on Earth is about to be wiped out.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is a brightly lit film with a transfer that accentuates the sunlight and bold colors.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The film is dialogue heavy though the sound gets busy during the riots and chaotic party sequences.
The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary with writer/director Lorene Scafaria, her mother Gail Scafaria, producer Joy Gorman, Patton Oswalt, and Adam Brody. Oswalt provides some of the most entertaining comments as the participants discuss the cast, working within budgetary limitations, and other production anecdotes.
A Look Inside Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (4:54) features quick words from the cast and director about the movie and what they would do if the world was about to end.
Music for the End of the World: What’s on Your Playlist? (2:15) asks the cast and crew what they would listen to when the time comes.
Finally, there’s an outtakes reel that’s actually longer than both featurettes combined.
Film Value: 7
Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back, world is destroyed by massive rocks from outer space. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a breezy and bittersweet romantic comedy bolstered by some terrific performances.