Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

In some lights, he’s handsome—almost classically so—but is there another actor more squirmy and strange in face than Steve Carell? Look at the guy. This is his gift:
a fragile quality of unpersuasive manhood that carried him brilliantly through The 40 Year Old Virgin and The Office. But in Carell’s latest (a mostly somber end-of-the-world drama), we’re asked to accept him in a Von Trier–like asteroid-imminent scenario that just feels off. His character, Dodge, is not a sad-eyed comedy everyhero, but a doomed loner, partially reaching out to his flighty upstairs neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), the two of them trekking on an ominous road trip to reconnect with Dodge’s ex-girlfriend as the world approaches its tombstone.

The casting is spectacularly wrong, and even on its own scant merits, writer-director Lorene Scafaria’s screenplay has little insight into apocalyptic licentiousness, barring a tart line or two. (“Nobody’s anybody’s anything anymore,” says a friend’s flirtatious wife, but the scene hangs in tonal limbo.) Do we applaud the risk? Not when our takeaway includes such carpe diem banalities as: Listen to those old vinyl records and savor them. Or: Go hang out on the beach with a bunch of serene strangers in robes. The movie is way too gauzy to contain a serious comment; nowhere is this felt more than at the moment when mighty Martin Sheen shows up as Dodge’s deadbeat dad, stumbling in a conversation with Carell’s stammering manchild. Who is going to mourn these trite types? Sometimes, asteroids have the right idea.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

Release details

Rated: R
Release date: Friday June 22 2012
Duration: 101 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Lorene Scafaria
Screenwriter: Lorene Scafaria
Cast: Leslie Murphy
Keira Knightley
Steve Carell
Melanie Lynskey
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