This week’s pick is a stretch in terms of our Melanie Lynskey theme, but the only other films of hers coming to my mind were Heavenly Creatures and Ever After. Since we’re all about broadening our horizons through this blog collab, we opted for this questionable doomsday comedy that, sadly, doesn’t give our star of the month (year, life, etc) a lot of screen time, but does feature more cameos than you can shake a stick at.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
(Fun fact: the acronym for this film is SAFFTEOTW)
Where to Watch:
The Uncondensed Version:
After the failure of one final space mission to divert the path of an incoming asteroid, it seems the existence of humanity is rapidly drawing to a close. With the realization that human existence will end in 3 weeks, Dodge (Steve Carell) tries to carry on as usual, while his wife literally runs off as quickly as she can in the opposite direction.
Dodge visits his friends, who try to set him up with a date during one last party, conveniently creating the opportunity for an absurd number of cameos This is where our girl Melanie Lynskey enters the fray as a somewhat out of character, over the top flirt wearing a tiara. I really wish she’d been given more to do here, as she appears for maybe 5 minutes max, though that’s true for most of the cameos in this film.
Despite everyone at the party going nuts in the true spirit of carpe diem, Dodge remains aloof and unable to enjoy the atmosphere (and admittedly, some of the shit on these people’s bucket lists is pretty fucked up, including shooting up heroin and letting their young children get wasted).
When he returns to his apartment, Dodge is alarmed to find his upstairs neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) crying on the balcony. An eternal fuck-up, she has made the most regrettable mistake of her life and missed the last plane home to see her family in England. When she asks about old pictures Dodge has been going through, he reveals his own regret—losing his first love, Olivia. Penny also inadvertently reveals details about his wife’s affair, of which Dodge had been blissfully unaware up to this point. However, she does have good news in the form of a letter mistakenly delivered to her apartment months ago from none other than Olivia.
When rioters threaten the apartment building, Dodge and Penny flee the city to find a route to Olivia and track down a plane–with the company a dog named Sorry that has been left in Dodge’s care. TBH, the dog is probably the only one besides ML (and Gillian Jacobs, who appears later) who’s not phoning it in for this film. Before they leave, Penny grabs a few favorite records because that’s her one defining personality trait in this film and should appeal to the trendy youths in the audience (none of whom watched this film with me, except maybe Bertha Mason, but she’d be more into destroying vinyl).
Since this is a journey film, our crew hits the road after catching a lift with a seemingly nice man driving along. If you are like me, you will probably wait for him to be revealed as a secret cannibal or human taxidermist, but really the only thing memorable about his character is his readiness to die (which I think is pretty understandable considering the circumstances). This sets up a long line of characters and scenarios that would be cleverly and occasionally obnoxiously quirky in any other road trip comedy, but fall flat here. The overly friendly staff at a restaurant have a really boring secret, the police are needlessly nitpicky, and even the doomsday preppers are staggeringly normal.
Initially, there’s a balance between the apocalyptic and romance threads that weave throughout the film, but eventually the romance plot takes over with Penny revealing personal stories about her family and practically writing a love song to vinyl. At a certain point it feels like the writers took turns drawing random lines of dialogue from a hat of full of romantic comedy clichés.
When the two do finally track down Olivia’s house in Delaware, it’s so, so, so anti-climactic and frustrating. It’s obvious that Dodge and Olivia aren’t getting back together from the moment the film begins, but it’s really unsatisfying that Dodge seems to abruptly shut off his feelings for her in favor of bonding with Penny. Narratively, it’s supposed to make viewers believe his feelings for Penny are the most genuine, but it only succeeds in making him looking fickle as fuck.
I think I should stop because I have so, so, so many problems with the ending and don’t even know where to begin.
Let’s just say this one goes out not with a bang, but with a whimper. Though it would also be accurate to say it literally does go out with a bang.
Eh, it probably deserves fewer PPHs, but I will grant some leniency for the premise (which had potential) and the brief but shining moment in which our girl ML appears.
First, let’s start out with the romance element because it gets so much goddamn screen time. Keira Knightley and Steve Carell are really difficult for me to buy as a couple, and he seems to be more of a caring father figure than a love interest. They are both so bland as characters, and Penny’s love for records felt tacked on to give her some semblance of personality. I honestly felt Audrey Hepburn had more chemistry with William Holden in Sabrina, and that’s a pretty low bar.
The end also pisses me off because Dodge makes a decision for Penny rather than letting her decide, which is not the least bit romantic. FFS, men. STOP IT.
The tone is perhaps the biggest problem—for example, a scene where someone is making a piss joke and then gets shot a few seconds later feels out of place. This film can never quite commit to being a comedy or a drama, failing to merge these elements together well.
I could see SAFFTEOTW more easily becoming a dark comedy or satire and couldn’t help comparing it to other works like Fido, arguably Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or even You, Me and the Apocalypse (that short-lived and rather uneven apocalyptic TV show starring Rob Lowe as the least believable priest in existence. It was never going to last 7 seasons, but it was funny at least). All of these successfully gave an apocalyptic event a dark, funny twist, and even worked in a more or less believable romantic subplot.
To be clear, the dog in this film is adorable and should be praised, given treats, and in general be considered a good dog–and I’m not even a dog person.