RIORI Vol 3, Installment 61: Lorene Scafaria’s “Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World” (2012)


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The Players…

Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, with Connie Briton, Rob Corrdry, Adam Brody, Melanie Lynesky, Derek Luke, William L Petersen, Mark Moses, Patton Oswalt and Martin Sheen.


The Story…

A planet-killing asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, so a guy whose wife has abandoned him decides to spend the planet’s final days with a road trip to reunite with his high school sweetheart. But his flighty neighbor who tags along for the ride complicates his plans, what with her anxiety, codependency and lugging around that damned record collection.

And that silly dog. Always with the dog.


The Rant…

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about mortality. The end of it all. The apocalypse even. And no, all that has nothing to do with our president elect. Okay, little to do.

It’s not something us humans think about often, even though we’re the only species known to be aware of our eventual end. It could happen at any minute. It could happen right now—

…loading

Sorry to let you down. Still here? The matrix ain’t crashed yet it seems.

The end comes to us all. The march of time. Illness. Car crash. Gluten allergy. Too many Warren Zevon albums jammed in the ears. A (un)fortunate few can pick their moments. Most of us just sit and wait, pestering ourselves with jobs, mortgages, tanking up at Citgo and the next ep of Madam Secretary gracing our screens that we had refinance our mortgages to afford. None of all that really matters in the longview, barring another shot of Tea Leoni’s legs.

When Death comes a-knockin’ and wants to stay for tea all you’ve done with your life—on an immediate personal level that is—amounts to no more than a Bogie one-liner. Hope bids that you can look back on your accomplishments as perhaps useful to those left behind for another cuppa. You know, your loved ones, friends, kind associates and pets (the pets’ll really miss you come suppertime. I mean the can opener; you had the thumbs and they didn’t. Commence with the staining of the rugs).

Namely, when you go—and you will and gotta—hopefully it won’t be in seclusion. Alone. Living in some spare flat surrounded by your record collection (complete with Zevon’s Life’ll Kill Ya), your books, several unopened tins of Fancy Feast and a grumpy cat pissed she wasn’t a viral Internet sensation first. No. Hope not. Since death is inevitable, you’d rather not want to meet it all by your lonesome. And with a busted needle on the turntable, mocking you. Kinda like Woody Allen when prophesied, “I don’t fear death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Well it’s gonna happen, and you’re fortunate if you’re not alone. If you still have a few marbles in your head and enough white blood cells in your stream, you can rest assured knowing you made some impact, positive or negative (e.g.: Nintendo Wii vs Olestra) on someone you cared about. And perhaps in some metaphysical way by a toss of the existential dice of mortality it might get reciprocated. Someone else will be glad to feed that cat with the malfunctioning bladder, and perhaps keep the thing from pissing on the rest of your Zevon collection. Poor, poor pitiful you.

*quitting the Zevon references now. Looking for the next best thing. Like empty beer cans. Ducking*

The message here is thus: you’re gonna go, perhaps with a bang or a whimper. But those onomatopoeia only matter if there’s someone around to hear them. When that time comes—and again it will—it’s best not to be alone. Have someone you care about be around. Hell, you best find someone.

To start, I recommend finding a date…


This is it. The Big One. Armageddon. Total annihilation of everything on Earth, including the planet itself. Better get your sh*t together. For what reason no one can say.

Even before asteroid Mathilda was on her collision course with Earth, Dodge (Carell) already had his non-life in order to fall apart. Not long before the grim news of the planet’s demise his wife left him. Left him to stew in his own juices about how ineffectual his existence is. His now quite ironic job as an insurance agent. His best friend is only the cleaning lady, and his fringe buddies are all louts and selfish kids. His family is…somewhere else. Along with his absentee wife. And now the end is nigh, and there’s nothing worth saving, save lost dreams and wasted opportunities. What to do, what to do?

Road trip!

Since Dodge is now alone and with nothing to lose—thanks to that damned asteroid—hell, why not? He decides to do the sensible thing, what with the calendar growing ever obsolete and indulge in an old fantasy we’ve all considered: seek out that high school sweetheart years later on and find out what they’ve been up to. After all, what the hell could go wrong?

Plenty.

Eccentric next door neighbor Penny (Knightley) is futilely trying to escape a sh*tty relationship before the end. Why spend your last days with a d*ckhead? Instead, Penny chooses to hang out with a schmuck instead. Dodge shares his last wish with her, and she explains she’s always wanted to reconnect with her estranged parents back in London. Before either of them could muse, “Hey, why not?” a riot (one of a never-ending many) drives them out of town as fast as their little car can take them.

Along the way, Dodge and Penny encounter a lot of curious strangers, all with their own armageddon wish list. All contain tales of lost loves, missed opportunities and fanciful whims of when and where to go. It’s virtually impossible to not put things in perspective for Dodge and Penny, who have to look each other in the face into the looming destruction in the sky.

So how far will their ride go?

Until the ends of the Earth…


I’m going to try and keep this short.

I know the I’m Not There installment ran a little long. Okay, Homerian epic is a more apt description. Hey, it was a heavy movie, very detailed and invited any movie fan to scratch her beard and try to assimilate all of director Todd Haynes’ kaleidoscopic vision into a simple singularity.

Um, the word count at the end of that installment exceed 7000 words, twice as much on average here at RIORI. That’s a lot of bathroom breaks. Hope you liked it (not the piss breaks, dummy).

So yeah, I’m going to try and keep Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World scouring brief. At least briefer. The plot’s a lot more direct. We have only two leads backed by a f*cking Barnum-like cast of supporters. We have a puppy. Yeah, easier to breathe.

And indeed it was, but it’s worth noting straight out of the gate End is a deceptive film. But the deception only creeps in by the third act, so take it easy for the first two. Beyond the first two-thirds however, it gets exponentially difficult to keep chuckling and not navel gaze. It’s kinda weird. But then again look at the title of the movie. Chances are between popcorn bites it may occur to you that this flick may not end well. Maybe.

The outset of the film plays out like a satirical SNL skit. Lots of left-of-center gags spitting into the face of Earth’s impending, premature end. Not terribly surprising how blasé humanity is about armageddon. What does that say? It says absurd. It also says idful, crazy and petulant. In Dodge’s circle, it’s all like having a substitute teacher with a VCR at the ready. It’s a circus, and the passive ring leader is Dodge, totally in tune the dire circumstances and totally disconnected all wrapped up in his being all at sea with no crew.

And that’s what holds End together despite all the silliness and pithy meditations on mortality: Dodge the average schlub. I mean, after Bill Murray Carell is master as hangdog. Carrell fans know the guy to be very skilled at being funny, and thankfully End is a bittersweet, almost black comedy and the ideal vehicle for Steve to ham it up. He doesn’t. He doesn’t do anything. He’s almost totally reactive. Carrell is known to underplay his roles. In End he under underplays Dodge, so lowly he appears. The only serious moment in Dodge’s work-a-day until the end of the world is when he chews out his friendly housekeeper who’s aloof to impending disaster. If only Dodge had that lust for life.

This ain’t to say Carell isn’t his usually amusing self. It’s funny to watch him react to all the predicaments dealt him, mostly drenched in gloom unlike the rest of humanity. Especially not Knightley’s Penny, who’s a chatterbox. Opinionated, assertive, everything Dodge is not and of course gabby gabby gabby (borderline annoying with her introduction). Admittedly, I’m really not familiar with Knightley’s work. Her acting style eluded me. Full truth be told, I got her confused with Kate Beckensdale during the early Underworld installments (surprised they got to chapter two after the first), and I’ve never seen any installments of the Pirates Of The Caribbean flicks. Such a qualified critic I am.

But I found Knightley’s performance as daffy Penny delightful. Of course her nervous demeanor results in non sequitirs a-plenty, and really good act to serve as Dodge’s foil. There’s an easy chemistry there, which makes sense not just because the End Times are here and desperate people band together for desperate reasons, like some sort of codependent Stockholm Syndrome (is that redundant?). But Dodge and Penny’s coupling is due to being victims of circumstance (not just the End Times and blah blah blah). Both her and Dodge have been abandoned, so they have congress in alienation, and so begins some Hunter S Thompson strange road trip in search of truth and fun. Or at least not desperation.

Yeah, so End isn’t quite black comedy. It does have generally funny scenes in the first act, especially Diane and Warren’s “going away party” (hey, we got ourselves Rob Corrdry here, so there’s that. And Patton Oswalt is creeping around somewhere), but as we follow Dodge and Penny into the wild in an end of Mad Max kind of way (but with records) we get darker and darker. Like Chevy Chase responded to his boss in Fletch: “How dark?” “Charcoal.” It’s not that bad, but End does take a gradual left turn over the course of the next two acts. The problem here is that the movie gets less funny as the story progresses (kinda hard not to considering the circumstances) and it gets hard to tell if this is on purpose. I mean, look at the film’s title for pity’s sake. It’s not like when John Wayne got to walk away with Grace Kelly. End eventually devolves into existential crisis, and maybe that’s the point. Alluding to my usual blasé snark dappling part one of the rant, we’re all gonna go someday, someway (with apologies to Marshall Crenshaw. He played Buddy Holly in La Bamba. There ya go). End is clever and tight enough to examine literally life, love and leaving. What started out as funny grows less funny but sweeter as the days count down. The whole tenor of End doomed it to lousy returns and the dreaded “quirky” tag all slightly left-of-center movies get these day. It’s a shade above (gasp) indie. Nevertheless, all of End is engaging in a weird way understanding the complete destruction of life and love is leaving.

I know I kept this all deliberately vague. Shut up. My f*cking take-apart of I’m Not There was vague. End‘s summary was like the back page of Highlights For Children. You really just gotta see End to get it. Or at least try to get something. I got quite a bit, but like Boys Don’t Cry or American History X I wouldn’t want to watch End again. It’s bittersweet, to be sure, but—

…”This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test…”


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild rent it. It’s an interesting, sometimes sweet, sometimes romantic, sometimes harrowing flick. The slow descent works, just too well. And don’t expect a Hollywood ending. I’m surprised that Hollywood went for the ending. Now where are those old records?


Stray Observations (quite a few; this was a film of moments, fleeting moments)

  • Nancy Walls! Makes sense.
  • “We’re f*cked, Bob!” Finally, honesty in mass media broadcasting. So what’s up with the weather then?
  • I wonder if the director read Richard Matheson’s short story “The Last Day” and giggled.
  • “He’s gonna die with everyone else!” Rob Corrdry makes for a lousy life coach. Surprise.
  • “I wanna do heroin to Radiohead.” Of course.
  • A lot of interesting visuals and framing at work here.
  • Dodge. Not really that subtle, is it?
  • MISFITS. I get it.
  • “No.”
  • “You have a lot guns and a lot of potato chips.” Best line in the whole movie, and a hell of a Saturday night.
  • “That’s a good window.”
  • For some inexplicable reason I loved Kiera’s shoes.
  • Admit it, you’ve thumbed through your old yearbooks on a quest of, “Whatever happened to…?”
  • I found the harmonica lesson on the beach scene terribly beautiful.

Next Installment…

Bella Swan is Joan Jett and Coraline Jones is Cherie Currie as one half of The Runaways, managed by music impresario General Zod as Kim Fowley.

The hell?