At the movies, the end is here.
Though 2011 was the year of Apocalypse Noir, with dark forebodings in films large and small, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” decides to leave ’em laughing.
Writer-director Lorene Scafaria foresees an asteroid impact creating a mash-up of genres, as disaster meets road trip meets rom-com meets indie whimsy.
But like the traffic jam to end all traffic jams and subsequent rioting that mark and encourage an escape from New York, Scafaria packs most of the action and ideas into the set-up.
As the movie opens, a couple are sitting in a car on the side of a bucolic road, listening to the direst of news. The broadcast ends and after a short pause, the man, Steve Carell, clears his throat and says, “I think we missed the exit.”
The woman looks at him, opens her door and rushes away into the night. The joke within the joke is that she’s Nancy Carell, Steve’s real wife.
For a time, “Seeking a Friend” sustains that level of black comedy. Carell’s character, burdened with the movies-only first name of Dodge, is a diligent middle-management type at a large insurance company. We know he’s diligent because he’s one of a handful who continues to go to work. He even answers the constantly blinking phones, discussing apocalyptic coverage options with customers.
Meanwhile, his friends are already partying hearty. Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt and Melanie Lynskey all make strong impressions, even though they don’t have much time. That’s not because of the asteroid, but, sadly, because Scafaria decides to move on from this promising set-up.
No, instead, Dodge is another one of Carell’s hang-dog characters, pining for the life, and prospective wife, that got away. As a good guy, he helps out his upset downstairs neighbor, disorganized Penny, who has missed the last flight home to Britain.