SEEKING A FRIEND FOR the end of the world
Reviewed by Benjamin Sepinuck (2019)
Apocalyptic romantic comedy is not a common genre description, but it is the easiest way to classify Lorene Scafaria’s melancholic and spellbinding 2012 directorial debut, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightly, the film, which was also written by Scafaria, examines the depressingly personal and romantically mundane aspects of an impending doom. A case study in mortality, Seeking a Friend applies a sort of gallow’s humor to the notion of the apocalypse while reminding us that we never have as much time as we think but can always make the most of what is left. With a clear passion for the story, Scafaria constructs a heartfelt depiction of the end of the world on a micro scale, eliciting complex and emotionally provocative performances from her leads and generating a genuine sense of wistfulness for those watching.
The establishment of this mood and the careful balancing of the film’s tone throughout its duration is perhaps the most impressive quality of Scafaria’s direction. From very early on, she presents us with unapologetically dark images; people jump off rooftops, spouses run off without explanation, and society struggles to retain structure as institutions slowly collapse and the population shifts to lawlessness. The film humorously juxtaposes this kind of grim depiction with sharp ironic twists on the ordinarily banal, such as an insurance company still operating days from certain annihilation or an aristocratic dinner party culminating in casual heroin usage. These elements serve to heighten the movie’s uniquely bittersweet tragic comedy and put a point on its focus on the implications of facing down mortality.
Aspects of the film intrinsically lack subtlety, which Scafaria does nothing to dispel by naming her protagonist after his defining character trait and including some arguably melodramatic sequences, but her mastery of tone provides all necessary nuance. This shines through not just in the pacing that comes from Scafaria’s experience as a screenwriter, but also in the carefully subdued camera Tim Orr. This restrained cinematography combined with Scafaria’s trademark incorporation of emotionally resonant music enhances the many character-driven moments that comprise the heart and soul of the film. As a writer, she jumps seamlessly between moments of gloom, amusement, and romance, and as a director she smooths them into one cohesive presentation of intricate sentimentality.
Ultimately, the over-the-top spectacle of some of the more extreme scenarios resulting from a societal breakdown gives way to something much more personal as the film examines the importance of community and valuing the close relationships that won’t last forever. Seeking a Friend’s narrative and character arcs come to a head in its deeply affecting final ten minutes, closing on a wonderfully heartbreaking shot that encapsulates the film’s romantic pessimism. Critics might view aspects of the script as too simplistic or overtly typified in order to represent a broader spectrum of experiences, but at its core this movie is an acutely touching exploration of accepting finality that makes a strong case for the thesis proposed by Lindsay Doran that audiences connect more to the relationships between characters than to the characters themselves. The characters in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World are defined by their relationships, past and present, and thus end up feeling all the more human.
To quote this review, please use the reference: Sepinuck, Benjamin (2019), "Review of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World», Barbara Zecchi, Gynocine Project, ed