Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Hyphens are problematic.

When a film is categorized as "comedy-drama," one expects the film to contain both comedy and drama.  When the trailer for said film contains 90% comedy and 10% drama, one expects that ratio to carry over into the film itself.  We understand that the film may deviate from the trailer's ratio to a slight degree, but only slightly.  It's a comedy-drama, so it will contain both comedy and drama.  Since comedy came first in the relationship, the film will privilege comedy over drama.  Right?

Dear God No.

SaFftEotW, or SFEW, is an apocalyptic drama that tells the story of a car trip that serious Steve Carell and emotionally fragile Keira Knightly take during the three weeks prior to the end of the world.  Steve wants to reunite with his long lost love, Keira wants to reunite with her family, and asteroid Matilda wants to unite with planet Earth.  There's also a dog, for some reason.  It doesn't do much.

The film begins in the style one might expect:  Humanity learns that earth is doomed, so we get a few scenes of apocalyptic comedy.  It's the end of the world, so you can wear casual Friday garb every day.  Ha.  Ha.  We only have three weeks to live, so people have lots of sex, take drugs, and don't worry about the consequences.  Oh, my sides, they split.

The trailer presents these scenes as comedy, as jokes.  The film, however, reflects upon these scenes as indications of a fundamental problem with the human condition.  Serious Steve Carell watches his acquaintances shoot heroine and engage in orgies, but he feels emotionally unsatisfied with their hedonistic revelry.  While his friends try to make the most of their final days through meaningless pleasure, Steve ponders the question of whether he's made the most of his life.  Once he meets emotionally fragile Keira Knightly, the two join together on a quest to reclaim their emotionally significant losses, while their friends fuck away their final days.

Once Steve and Keira begin their quest, the film shifts its focus from the apocalypse to their relationship.  All the end of the world components to the film act as backdrops to their emotional journey.  The daily countdown to Matilda's impact is a ticking clock that strictly defines their temporal limitations.  They're trying to make the most of their lives with full knowledge that their lives are finite.  They're trying to reclaim what they've lost, all the while aware of the fact that they're just going to lose it all again.

Which is why I love this movie.

If you ignore all of the lousy comedy bits that, I suspect, some marketing schmuck forced into the film, you're left with a heartfelt reflection upon human finitude and the quirky ambiguity that is desire.  Steve and Keira begin as two individuals using each other as means to obtain their independent goals.  Over the course of the film, though, they come to suspect that what set them on the journey is less important than what they've found along the way.  It's the sentiment from that John Lennon quote:  "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

I suspect that most people will not enjoy this movie.  Staring at your own mortality isn't necessarily a fun way to spend one's afternoon.  However, the film tries to deal with that in a very subtle way.  Steve and Keira confront the end of days and strive to find meaning in their mortality while their friends drown themselves in booze and sex.  Audience members who sympathize with Steve and Keira will enjoy the film.  Audience members who ignore their own morality will find resonance in the actions of Patton Oswald, who just wants to get laid.  Since the film focuses upon Steve and Keira, it attempts to convey the message that, perhaps, the Patton Oswalds of the world have it wrong.  If you don't often think about your inevitable death, and don't want to, the film offers you a subtle suggestion:  Maybe you're wrong.  Maybe you shouldn't be like Patton Oswald.  Maybe there's something more to life than sex and booze, and you should fucking think about it.

That's kind of the point.

I wouldn't say this film is depressing, but it can be emotionally draining at times.  If you feel your way through the journey and empathize at all with the characters, you'll find yourself struggling with some scenes.  I cannot adequately describe the feeling you have when the film ends.

The final scene is beautiful.  But it's that empty, painful beautiful of gaining what you love at the very same moment that it's lost.


Caleb said...

So, better than Evan Almighty?

_J_ said...

I'd say so, yes.

Because, you know, it's quite difficult to not be better than Evan Almighty.