Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Turn on Radiohead, I want to do heroin to Radiohead.

It certainly is the end of the world in here.  I’m all alone in Bennington, VT (the closest theater showing this movie).  Wait, I have a friend.  Keira Knightley, it ain’t.  Okay, it is 12:50 on a Friday–not everyone’s a die hard–but I saw at least two dozen going into see Brave (2012).  Maybe it’s a little early in the day to laugh at the end of the world.  But if anybody make it happen, as far as actors are concerned, it’s Steve Carell.  He’s shown us time and time again that he is the melancholy comedian.  They may draw him into stupid characters time and again, and it does make me sad, but this is where this man lives.

“The final mission to save all mankind has failed” and there are three weeks left until the asteroid, “Matilda,” crashes into and destroys the Earth.  When Dodge Peterson (Carell) and his wife, Linda (Nancy Carell), hear the news, Linda almost immediately leaves the car never to return.  Turns out that she’s never been happy with him and was flagrantly cheating (though he, obviously, never noticed).  Penny (Keira Knightley), a Brit who didn’t make it back home before all flights were cancelled, has had relationship issues and is trying to reconcile herself to events as a newly single woman.  He tries to go to a party, but is so despondent after his wife left that he can’t take it.  That’s when he meets Penny–“I won’t steal anything if you don’t rape me,” she says.  “Agreed,” he replies.–and gets months-old mail from the love of his life (Olivia).  Road trip!  He gets to Olivia and Penny might meet a guy who’s got a plane.  During the trip, they meet up with survivalists, a suicidal truck driver, and people who are just getting down–and you gotta get up to get down.  What will happen next?

Calling this a comedy might be overstating it.  There are laughs, certainly, but it is definitely in touch with its dramatic side.  It’s a dramedy, I guess you could say.  It isn’t just a matter of humorous beginnings and slow decline into the morose.  It’s pretty morose for the duration with light chuckles throughout.  We’re laughing at death, basically, so it’s all just a doomed survival mechanism.  That makes it hard to get my hands on how I feel about the movie.  I’m not sure I can say it was successful or not when the goal could be to make a comedy or to make the dramedy (which ultimately came about).

The performances are all quite good.  Carell, like I said, is a proven force for sad sack humor-seekers everywhere.  In this movie, though, unlike other sad roles he’s had, the character is rather ambiguous.  He’s got a lot going on.  He wasn’t really in love with his wife, he’s afraid of dying alone, and there are hints of some profound inadequacies on his part in the good-guy department.  That’s just it, really.  He’s not the clearly great guy that we are so obviously supporting and screaming for the other character’s to realize it.  Instead, he’s more like the majority of female characters in these movies where we’re pretty sure they’re good enough for the hero (so long as we aren’t asked to detail those positive qualities).

He’s not an incredibly witty or funny character.  That’s what keeps this from being a hilarious comedy.  Carell’s acting is strong enough (well strong enough) to transform the movie into something (purposefully) tragic and thus, with Knightley, “saves” the movie.  [Again, I use the word save in quotes because intent and marketing strategy have never shown themselves to be related even distantly–they’re friends or they aren’t.]  Speaking of Knightley, she puts in good work here.  I don’t think she is asked to stretch as far as Carell is in depth of emotion until the end of the movie, but at that crucial point, acquits herself well.  In fact, I’d say Carell loses a step in that scene, and she takes up the slack.

As far as structure and general themes are concerned, I’d say total thumbs up to writer/director Lorene Scafaria.  Because of the (relative) unfunniness of Dodge, I can’t dismiss the possibility that it is a flaw of intention.  Patton Oswalt, who is given a credit in the trailer but says probably two words more than are portrayed in the trailer, isn’t that funny–though, perhaps he’s a victim to my inabilities.  The dialogue doesn’t, to my memory, get clunky or too cheesily sentimental (when it so easily could), so that’s a victory.  Imperfect, but solid, is how I’d characterize it.

I haven’t read the review yet–an informal policy of mine–but let me predict complaints.  “It was predictable.”  Really, there are four options: the world ends or it doesn’t and they get together or they don’t.  The latter dilemma is, I would say, an almost insurmountable expectation-beater outside of an indie movie.  I do not subscribe to the view, which I take to be a preposterous logic, that the mere contradiction of an expectation somehow makes a piece ‘artistic’ or appreciable in those terms (while the contrary–fulfilling expectations–is somehow cheap).  In my view, you have to be so incapable of escaping your own thoughts to be ever-predicting during a movie.  If that’s the case, let me tell you, you’re missing a world of experience and imagination.  Oh well, console yourself in the knowledge that Django Unchained (2012) is coming out later this year. BOOM!

I wonder if there has been any studies done on marketing a movie without showing any of it at all.  I’m thinking especially for comedies where hearing the dialogue is basically sacrificing a scene or two (or more) in the hopes of attracting people to the theater.  I’m not saying that marketing is always a compromise or a dreadful thing, but I so very much wish we could get to a place where people would see a movie on premise alone.  I freely admit that this is my own failing.  I cannot fully enjoy a joke a second time.  When the gags are either light or sparse, as in this movie, you need to hold those dear.

My final thought.  What would Aristotle have to say on using cleavage rather than nudity in telling a story?  I’m of the opinion that nudity is a pointless distraction for the vast majority of movies.  Well, not pointless–depending on who it is, of course–BOOM–but unjustified.  Without chemical castration, the only thing you can say with sex or nudity is “Uuuuu…boobs.”  A second worst, however, is cleavage and/or high pressure systems (“There’s a double meaning in that”).  There’s some kind of willful ignorance going on where those involved seem to thing that so long as people are basically covered, eye contact is still theoretically possible and the pressed flesh is just a visual vacation when things get less vital.  No such triage occurs.  In any other circumstance, I’d say it was a matter of cynical machinations of executives to get a PG-13 rating, but the movie is R.  Flaggerblasted am I.

Check it out.

P.s.  Loved the music.  Well chosen, well placed.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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2 Responses to Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

  1. 2manybooks says:

    I agree on the marketing issue. Time and again we are faced with non-stop hilarious trailers only to find ourselves captive to a depressing drama with occasional humorous parts (false marketing) Or worse yet, showing the funniest bits (Johnny English 2) in the trailers and knowing they are coming up in a scene (thereby hearing the joke for the 2nd time). Or, my favorite, showing clever trailers using footage cut from the movie so you spend 2 hrs waiting for a scene that’s not coming.

    Only the news and books have brought me bigger letdowns. The anchor who mentioned the US win over USSR in hockey while the game was still being watched here at home, another anchor who mentioned his surprise that Darth Vader was Luke’s father during the 1st week of Empire Strikes Back, and the biggest blunder of all: reading The Great Snape Debate where the author considered the possibility that Snape was in love with Lily and a good guy at heart.

    Movie sounds interesting.

  2. Pingback: Top 12 Films of 2012 | Prof. Ratigan

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