Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Film Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Normally I don't do the film review right after the film flash.  But I wanted to get this out of the way.


I don't like to give out big spoilers, but I don't think I could make any kind of comment about this movie without letting you know what you are in for.  But in case you hadn't figured it out, in the movie the world ends.  There is no last minute Bruce Willis to stop the asteroid and there is no secret underground bunker to shield our heroes.  Like last year's Melencholia, this really is about the end of the world.  If you are like me and are very much susceptible to the feeling existential dread, I would avoid this movie.

This film centers around the always amazing Steve Carell as Dodge.  When news of the world's impending end comes, his wife leaves him and his friends all break down in a sometimes literal orgy of hedonism that would make the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah blush.  In the chaos he meets Penny played by the also wonderful Keira Knightly.  She has just missed the last flight to England so that she will not be with her family in the end.  But when Dodge finds a letter from his first love, he asks Penny to help him get to her and in return he will get her to a plane.  Thus begins the last journey they will take.

Here is my big problem with the movie: it's not funny.  I know, I know, it's a movie about the end of the world, so what was I to expect?  Actually, based on the trailers, I thought it would be funny.  Writer/Director Lorene Scafaria gives us very quirky characters with a bit of an off-beat tone.  But the moments that are meant to be funny are not.  And sadly, there are not many of those moments.  This movie offered a unique chance to really delve into the humor of people dealing with an insane situation.  But the movie is primarily made up of Dodge and Penny driving and talking.  If their conversations were funnier, I think that this movie would flow much better.

Also, the humor would have been helpful to place in relief to the melodrama.  Just like the most popular roller coasters are the ones with the tallest drops, so too the greatest heart-wrenchers can be found if they are surrounded by a lot of humor.  You make the audience laugh and then when their defenses are down, you can hit them with an emotional wallop.  Some of the film's truly emotional moments don't seem to have as much heft because of the heaviness of the movie's atmosphere.  The noose constantly tightens, but there is scant humor in these gallows.

The movie has 3 very beautiful and moving scenes.  One of them is where Dodge and Penny find themselves on a beach with a long line of people waiting to be baptized.  It was a sublime moment that showed the enduringness of the faith.  These people were not crazed or placidly calm.  They were normal people who, faced with the reality of death, wanted to embrace faith and love.  I will not talk about the other 2 scenes, but they were written with such tenderness that they are still lingering in my mind.  If only the rest of the movie was as good.

Carell played the part perfectly, but I'm afraid of him getting typecast as the wryly funny guy with the hangdog expression.  Knightly gave one of her best performances where she tries desperately to speed through her thoughts lest the horror of the impending doom break through her consciousness, which it inevitably does.

Though there are funny moments and there is a nice romance, I left the theater with a knot in my stomach because this movie forces you to deal with the inevitability of death.  This may have been the effect Scafaria aimed for, but it made for a thoroughly unpleasant movie-going experience.

I want to speak a moment about this anxiety we have about death.  While unpleasant, I don't think that it is necessarily a bad thing.  Fr. Larry Richards, the man who showed me Jesus Christ, first turned to the Lord out of fear of death.  Of course fear of dying should not be THE reason we embrace the Lord, but it does call us back to the fleetingness of this world.  We only have a limited number of grains of sand in our hourglass and we get no refills.  If we deny this then we can waste much of our lives on the things that don't matter.  But the undiscovered country still waits for us.  If my faith was perfect, I could say that I had no fear of death.  But I constantly have to remind myself that if Heaven is as great and awesome as Jesus told it is, then who is the more blessed?  The one who gets to go there after 8 years or 80?  As CS Lewis said, we are living in the Shadowlands, where this world is just a poor copy of the real one.  Real life hasn't begun yet.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World finds people confronted with this problem and many, if not most, give in to despair.  But some choose reconciliation, faith, and love.  It is oftentimes moving, but will probably leave you more upset than uplifted.

2 out of 5 stars

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