R (strong language, sexual references, drug use, brief violence); 101 min.
For its first half, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is as lost and out of sorts as its title.
Is it a comic romance set during Earth's final days, or a dark lampooning of every "If I had a week to live"/"Party like it's 1999" cliché you've ever heard?
But Seeking is a movie you have to give time to work.
Steve Carell stars as Dodge, an insurance salesman. And that adds to the confusion. Do we laugh when, on hearing the news that a last-ditch space mission to stop the asteroid Matilda from crashing into Earth has failed, his wife literally leaps out of the car and runs away? The "End of the World" party Dodge attends -- with couples comically desperate to hook up with one, two or five last flings before the end comes, people trying heroin for the first time, parents serving their kids mixed drinks -- is both amusing and very depressing.
And then Dodge meets his neighbor. Penny (Keira Knightley) is many years his junior, a transplanted Brit whose flightiness and optimism have caused her to a) kick her boyfriend out and b) miss the last flight home to the U.K. to see her family.
Penny resolves to help Dodge make one last contact with the one who got away. And Dodge promises to get her onto a plane that will get her home before The End.
Writer-director Lorene Scafaria aims for the sweet spot in this morbid setup, a kind of wistful, romantic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind quest with two people on the empty roads getting to know each other in the little time they have left.
By the third act, the tragedy and romance of it all start to pay off. Issues and feelings come out into the open. Seeking a Friend finally finds its footing and finally seems to take its own message to heart: "Better late than never."
-- Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service