I keep forgetting to review this movie, as I just haven’t made the time to do it, since I was so busy. This is the directorial debut of writer Lorene Scafaria, best known for her adaptation of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. While this wasn’t a movie I would call a favorite, I did appreciate the role of music in the film, and the passion with which it was represented. Seeing the cast and concept for Seeking a Friend, I was intrigued enough to want to go see it. I had seen Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter the night before, so it’s safe to say that I was prepared for a breakneck shift in style. Still, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into when I decided to check out the film, as I knew next to nothing about it.
The answer is an indie road movie with a mumblecore romance and excellent actors. The plot of the movie is simple enough and gets the conceit out of the way in the opening sequence. It begins with a news announcement that the last ditch effort at the diversion of an asteroid has failed, and that a giant asteroid named Matilda will be impacting the Earth, possibly destroying all life. During this announcement, occurring by radio, you see Dodge (Steve Carell) and a woman you later learn is his wife, Linda (played as a cameo by real life wife Nancy Walls Carell). As Dodge dazedly announces that he thinks they missed their exit, Linda exits the car and flees. This sets the initial tone for the movie, in that Dodge is now left alone and is seemingly shiftless. Dodge returns home, sees a break up in progress by his downstairs neighbors, and then goes over to a friend’s house for a dinner party.
Warren (Rob Corddry) and Diane (Connie Britton) are throwing a dinner party where Diane is trying to set Dodge up with Karen so that he is not alone during his final few weeks. Diane is also unsurprised that Linda left, as she thought Linda was incredibly unhappy with Dodge anyway. Dodge is uninterested in this prospect, voicing his opinion that he sees no point in attempting to get to know someone when the world is about to end, and believes that all thrill seeking is pointless now that there are no consequences or risks. Then the dinner party devolves into an orgy and party where drugs are being passed out like crazy and Diane attempts to hook up with Dodge voicing that “no one belongs to anyone any more, and that he can’t run from this one”. Dodge leaves the party at high speed, literally running away, and buys cleaner for his cleaning lady. I will come back to the cleaning lady, as I found their interactions the most interesting in the entire film. Dodge drinks the cleaner instead, attempting to kill himself. This marks the end of the first shift and really is a microcosm of the film as a whole.
I, unlike a lot of the other reviewers, don’t see this really a tonal mismatch, but rather as a chance to explore both the macro and micro levels of humanity as it would occur during an end of the world scenario. With no tomorrow or consequences to expect, society rapidly breaks down, or not. I will say that it does odd things to the pacing and the tension of the movie, but I don’t think that it would have been as interesting and compelling of a film without those segments. You have this repetition of personal conflict, interpersonal conflict, extrapersonal commentary. It’s an interesting cycle, and the film suffers the most when the falls by the wayside about two thirds of the way through, maybe really three fifths, but that’s a weird measurement to use, so I will stick with two thirds.These are also the funniest and strangest scenes in the film, and it is these scenes that will keep the film memorable when people discuss it in the future.
The film is really a character piece at heart, so it helps that the dialogue is fairly well written, and that Penny (Keira Knightley) is a delightful mess. The chemistry between Penny and Dodge is believable, and it helps that Dodge still gets frustrated when he’s definitely out of his comfort zone or is simply just rightfully frustrated. For her part, Penny seems to understand this, and acts as a real human being might. Where this falls apart a little is towards the end of the film where it begins to focus, as these things do, on the love story. It’s rushed by necessity, and then compounded by a third act that is quite literally all over the place. The setting changes rapidly, you meet a lot of past loves and influences and then spends sometime on a strange moment of reconciliation, before moving weirdly into a final moment that doesn’t make a lot of sense in resolution. I did very much enjoy the newscaster exposition in the film, as a side note, and I think that sort of “in-world” narration was an excellent touch, and also served as a reminder of the newscasters of old, when you trusted and cared about the people telling you the news.
The best segments of the film, in my opinion, revolve around Dodge and his housekeeper, Elsa. Dodge struggles internally during all of his interactions with Elsa for different reasons each time. It is through his speaking to her that you get a true sense of what’s going on in Dodge’s mind. The best part of this, to me, is that it’s told through facial expressions, exasperation and frustration. Dodge alternates between kindly telling Elsa she doesn’t need to keep coming if she doesn’t want to be there, telling her that she’s fired, and then manically telling her that she needs to leave and be with loved one. Each time, the conversation eventually ends up with him saying that she will see her next week. The first time it comes across as if Elsa doesn’t believe in the tragedy and is in denial, but it’s almost a reflection of Dodge’s introspection at this point. The second time, he believes he is doing her a service, but she looks so distraught that he again backs off from truly saying what he is thinking and Elsa again appears almost in denial about what is occurring. Finally, he confronts her about what is going on and bares his soul talking about loved ones and family and doing what matters, and that’s when he realizes that Elsa is content in the choices she is making, has addressed family concerns and is truly doing what she loves to do in her final days. Elsa is truly the exact opposite of Dodge in the film, and it’s a nice bookending of the film, so to speak.
All in all I enjoyed the film, but wasn’t enamored with it, and I can’t truly recommend it to everyone. I would recommend it to people who are willing to take a chance on films, and for those who really liked Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist then I would say go for it. I would rate it as one and a half smiley faces on a scale of five frowny faces to five smiley faces.