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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Oops, almost overlooked this one.

You know how in Michael Bay's Armageddon a bunch of astronauts embark on a mission to destroy an asteroid that's hurtling towards the earth? Well, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is about what happens when those astronauts fail in their mission and the entire earth is given just three weeks before all life on the planet comes to an end.

Rather than going for the epic melodrama of Armageddon or Deep Impact, Seeking a Friend plays out as an unassuming, indie comedy-drama that centres around two fairly ordinary people - a sullen middle-aged man wondering where his life went (Steve Carrell) and a 20-something hipster (Keira Knightley) who just wants to get back to her family in England after spending far too much time in an unhealthy relationship. The two strike up a friendship as she promises to help him find a lost love, while he promises to get her to a private plane to get her back to her family and her homeland. As expected, this friendship develops into something more along the way.

Admittedly, Lars Von Trier's excellent but grueling Melancholia already tackled the end of the world through quiet, introspective character-drama but, considering how unashamedly allegorical that film was, Seeking a Friend still seems like a surprisingly fresh take on the subject. It may be a Cinema Nouveau movie but Seeking a Friend falls much more on the "indie" side of things than on the "artier" end of the spectrum where Melancholia clearly reigns supreme.

It may be an end-of-the-word film but Seeking a Friend plays out a lot like many somewhat deadpan indie romantic dramas but if there is one area that it is undoubtedly at least somewhat misjudged was in its need to inject romance into the relationship between Carrell and Knightley, when the chemistry between them worked much better as friends than lovers. There is also the problem that the film never quite makes full use of its premise and, when it does, it seems unsure whether to play it seriously or with deadpan humour.

Still, though it certainly isn't anywhere near as good as it could have been, there is still plenty to like about Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. For a start, though I never bought into their romance Keira Knightley and Steve Carrell turn in a couple of really top notch performances in the lead roles, with the latter being particularly impressive as the heart and soul of the film. It also features a goldmine of fairly terrific cameos along the way from the likes of Connie Britton, Patton Oswalt, Gillian Jacobs and, oh yes, Martin Sheen, all of whom add plenty of humour and humanity to the proceedings throughout.

Best of all, there's simply something refreshing about an apocalyptic film that doesn't feel the need to dial the bombast up to eleven - especially because when the asteroid does hit the planet (completely off screen) the sudden and violent BANG is made all the more visceral in contrast to the quietness of the rest of the film.

It may not be all that it could be, but Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is still a smart, charming, occasionally very funny and quietly moving little film that certainly deserves a look in at your local art or independent cinema.

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