Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Reviews
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World by Lorene Scafaria has become one of my favorite movies. This jewel of creative thought was shamelessly pulled from the theaters before it could find an audience. Drivel and schlock fill the cineplex and apparently there's no room for something different. The early reviews were mixed and mostly centered on what it wasn't, causing its early ouster. I feel compelled to defend what it is.
This is a darkly comic yet heartfelt look at other side of a pending apocalypse. Blockbusters like Armageddon tell what our bigger than life heroes might do to save the day, but what about the rest of us, just waiting for the end? What do we do? What would you do?
The story is about a sad sack who laments his misspent life and flighty homesick free spirit, thrown together in the final days. Each deciding to help the other they embark on a quest to find his lost love and get her back home. The genius is in their encounters and the back round satire, both subtle and not. The last third is for anyone with a beating heart and the ending is spot on perfect.
I found the critiques totally off the mark. One complaint was about its "jarring tonal shifts." Yes, the end of the world can be a bit unnerving. Some didn't like Steve Carell, but nobody plays a deflated sole better. And there is no shortage of Keira Knightley detractors. Well, they are just flat out wrong. Think Keira and Steve don't belong together? They don't. That is entirely the point. This movie makes you feel. It makes you think. It gets more captivating with every viewing. And that, my friends, is the true essence of art.
Watch it and let its slow burn win you over and then afterward see if you don't ask yourself, what you would do?
Relatively boring, not very gripping, didn't really get into the characters or really believe the emotional connections.
Every low featured in the film is matched with a follow up high. One of my favorites was in the beginning. First, the news that the world is ending and his wife leaving is followed up with the party his friends are having. While there, Patton Oswalt's character performed a very inappropriate soliloquy full of innuendo followed by "I want to do heroine to Radiohead" which is one of my favorite lines of the movie. Then, not long after, Dodge tries to end his life by drinking window cleaner. To no avail, he comes to next to a dog that he feels obligated to take care of when his own will to live is waning.
That scene to me was just a lighthearted example of Murphy's Law, which is ironic because the whole film is what I'd call, (Murphy's Law)2. Everything that can go wrong, has kind of already gone wrong with the demise of the astronauts trying to divert the asteroid, and then everything that goes wrong in the movie was dependent on that accident and many trickle-down scenarios.
I feel like most apocalyptic movies are directed by men and show the graphically exaggerated carnal side of mankind that may occur leading up to the end of time. Often these films are full of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; I came to the assumption that the female iteration would be different and more timid. However, I think Lorene Scafaria was pandering to the pro-apocalyptic mindset of 2012 and thus preventing us from seeing a lighter side of the end of the world.
Of course, this movie has its romantic side. Yes, it's assumed the end of days will be full of rape, pillaging and murder, yet some people will remain civilized and act the way most people do in this film. Everyone has swallowed the pill of reality and how he or she were going to react was nearly predestined. The suicides that occur look into the predestination of characters as in real life, this would be the option some people chose, while other choose to stick it out to the bitter end.
This is where some of the satire comes through in the film. Dodge's car is mashed by a suicide that jumped from a building, while the guy in the truck hired a hitman to kill him at a non-specific before the end. They were going to die anyways and the cast brought it up that it was dumb because their fate had already been written. In my opinion, I would think this stems from a psychological complex in which an individual is inherently determined that they make their own fate rather than a predestined one that they have to show the world one more "Take that!" moment. Regardless of their own self-inflicted demise, the world is what pushed them to that ultimatum, so who really won?
Personally, I think the amount of suicidal demises angers the universe. Before the public can make more brash decisions, the universe says, "Matilda will be arriving one week ahead of schedule," leaving earthlings with 16 hours left. Adding comedic insult to injury, the final news broadcast makes sure to remind people to set their clocks ahead as it is daylight savings time. I found it morbidly comical while it was quite a serious situation. I think the situation leaves the world in shock as their time has been ripped away and are left with just hours.
As a final plot twist, the audience is left to think that the movie title was a misnomer. Dodge is obviously going to die alone after the power goes off for good and he is surrounded by candlelight and silence. Then his companion from the near beginning of the film becomes alarmed and in walks Penny. Rather than dying with her family, she chooses to die with minimal dignity with a stranger she's known for a week while making small talk about her family that she could be been with. Dumb.
Obviously, the director felt the need to make it sappy and incredibly sad by incorporating the pinnacle of hopeless romantics that are Dodge and Penny. He could have stayed at his dad's and waited until he got back, and Penny could have stayed with her parents and the audience would have respected that common sense kind of ending. Amends are not made with his father that we know of, and Penny has unfinished business with her parents. However, as I said earlier, if it didn't end this way, it probably had the sex, drugs, and rock and roll ending I have rendered in my mind.
Finally, let us not forget about Elsa, Dodge's housekeeper. Her part was critical in the aspect of comedic relief. When Dodge hears the news that the world is ending earlier, he goes home, and she's cleaning the house. Oblivious to the fact she be blown in to an oblivion in a matter of hours, she asks for reassurance that she will be needed on Tuesday to clean. Dodge tries to talk sense into her and asks why she isn't at home with her family, but eventually gives into her kind eyes and tells her what she wants to hear. Also, this isn't the first time. Every time she appears in the movie, she is doing the same thing, which is remain ignorant to the world, which I always find amusement in.
Now the question we need to ask ourselves is, "As a society, did we accept this film in 2012 because of the Mayan Doomsday Prophecy?" as opposed to maybe after December 21, 2012 since nothing happened? Bruce Handy, a critic for Vanity Fair, doesn't seem to think so. He thinks this movie should be charged criminally for charging admission and rips the director, Scafaria, to shreds. Much like the asteroid, he shows no mercy. He poses the question "Why would a female writer-director make a Manic Pixie Dream Girl movie? I don't know. Stockholm Syndrome?" (Handy 2012) He doesn't even qualify this movie first as an apocalyptic movie, it second to being the pixie dream girl genre. I was hoping for some support on my timing of the movie's release, but Handy doesn't even mention to appeal of the timing. He just calls it "the worst movie of its generation" repeatedly and questions why everything happens.
I thought Scafaria had broken a mold in the apocalypse genre, but not according to Handy. Apparently it's men who create the pixie dream girl films, and he had higher hopes for her to escape that path. He essentially says that she did it because it pays the bills. He also criticizes Carell for doing a streak of sappy movies and that the combo of a manic pixie girl falling for someone old enough to be her father is downright annoying. It'd be better if the love interest was someone closer in age, but that feeds into my argument that if the male role was younger, its be an ongoing sexcapade, thus Carell's age makes him more of a father role than a lover to Penny, creating an awkward dynamic that doesn't really help the cause for improving the movie.
As a final note on Handy's opinion, he really typecasts Penny's character by saying "Another way to think of her is as a holy fool with pert boobs, an available vagina, and a half-read copy of Infinite Jest in her Hello Kitty backpack." (Handy 2012) Just brutal and no regard for human life. Honestly, I think she brings the movie down. Dodge had an option in the beginning to make moves on an attractive divorcee that was ready to mingle and had no childlike baggage, but chose to pass. I would have preferred he took the easy way out and went with his equally aged companion.
Luckily, I was able to find a Gizmodo article in which Scafaria was interviewed and they asked her the tough questions, like "Why?" to which Scafaria responding quite morbidly by saying, "I've always been obsessed with both subjects," referring to romance and death. (Gizmodo 2012) She also says that she remembers watching Deep Impact in the late 90s and remembers the end when the female lead and her father are standing on the beach waiting for the tsunami to wipe them out. Sound familiar? This substantiates my claim that Carell was more of a father figure than a lover to Penny in the film. It appears that Scafaria was subconsciously influenced by the apocalyptic, father-daughter relationship that is portrayed in Deep Impact.
Also, if it wasn't for these circumstances, these two neighbors would have never talked to each other or given each other the time of day. Since his loose cannon of a wife freaks out and takes a legitimate excuse, i.e. the end of the world, to get out of their lifeless relationship. What bugs me, is that she uses the out for the advancement of her sexual needs while, the man, against common thought, takes the time to "find himself" and not be a manwhore. Fortunately, Scafaria is asked how she came up with the ideas for scenes that are played out in the film. She says she asked her closest friends and family on how they would react, and some of those ideas made it to the silver screen. Explicitly, the scene in which Dodge goes in search for his high school sweetheart was an idea straight from one of Scafaria's family.
More importantly, Scafaria herself said "Certainly sex, drugs, and rock and roll come up as well. But for the most part, everybody really had the same answers of wanting to be with friends and family." (Gizmodo 2012) Finally, I get vindication that she had pressure to implement sex, drugs, rock and roll, but found the drive to find other things to fill it with. However, would circumstance change what we think now of how we would act? Most people would assume they would act rational, but there is no need to be rational when the world is going to end. I will not make any claims of how I would act, because I probably would not be truly honest with myself or whoever I am having the conversation with. I am positive I would steal a fast car and go ride of in to the sunset feeling no guilt.
Fred Tope, a writer for Crave, a pop culture website, asked Scafaria the tough questions that make us wonder if she really does have a few screws loose. Seemingly, however, she passes such judgements. All of the scenes can be justified because they are a new take on events. Scafaria plays out the events that could happen if Bruce Willis does not save the day in Armageddon, which is exactly what Topel's article was called. "Bruce Willis Failed". One questioned asked by Topel was "Is the end of the world a license to be completely un-PC?" to which she does not have a defined answer. She just once again mentions, "Heroin and orgies seemed to be on the table somehow." (qtd in Topel, 2012) I mean for as much as she was anticipating sex, drugs and rock and roll, she downplayed them so much in the name of a sad sack love story, which is the real tragedy in my opinion. Topel questions if she may have pushed the envelope too far with the scenes depicting parents letting their kids get drunk because... why not? It is the end of the world. Rational acting is gone in some aspects, but not altogether. Topel also thought that those scenes may have triggered a NC-17 rating from MPAA, but Scafaria said that there was not much that dare pushed the limits. The underage drinking was merely a comedic relief more that any kind of sinister propaganda that people could have interpreted it.
Topel also uncovered her lack of originality. Scafaria explains that she used a 70-mile wide asteroid because she saw a video rendition online of what would happen. She did not even make the effort to change the size. He does not call her lazy to her face, but it comes across to me. She "did research" which means asking her friends and family what they would do and watch YouTube videos. As for Penny's role in the film, she is a representation of Scafaria's emotions surrounding 9/11. An interview with the Washington Post explains that a week before 9/11, Scafaria moved to LA from New York. Aside from driving to New Jersey to see her family, she was literally stuck in California with no way to reach her parents due to grounded flights. She took this time to reconnect with friends she was on the fringe of losing and forming new bonds to relieve the stress and aloneness that Scafaria as well as the rest of the world had been feeling. (Jenkins 2012) This article also talks about the emphasis that music played in the film, which made no sense to me. I didn't understand this connection at all and really had no idea what they were talking about. Apparently, Scafaria is in a band and records music, some of which was used in prior films. The writer and Scafaria talk about the significance that is taking place when Penny's only possessions are a couple vinyl records and how it symbolizes what's important to her. I didn't get it. She was a grungy hipster chick. She looks like she would be carrying around a record player instead of boombox. I didn't get the connection. I think they were stretching too far in this instance to find something to talk about. The important insight provided was her thought process regarding the creation of Penny in her own image. The rest is fluff.
As I looked for more evidence as why Scafaria wrote this film, none of it links to my original hypothesis of trying to get in sync with the Mayan doomsday and capitalize on it is not substantiated. Honestly, I blame the people who interviewed her. They were shallow minded. The last article I found was incredibly useless as it is just a repeat of all prior ones I have found. I'll put a quote here showing that I'm not lying and that I'm avoiding wasting anymore of your time or mine. "I sat down in Chicago a few weeks ago to talk with Lorene Scafaria to talk about Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, about how 9/11 and later her own father's death informed the script, and why TGIFridays resturants would likely become orgy sites." (Peterseim 2012) See? Same topic, no need to beat a dead horse, especially since it reviews no new details on her thought process.
After writing about the film so much, my feelings about it have changed from quixotic doomsday, to just hating it in every facet. After, Patton Oswalt's character says he wants to do heroine while listening to Radiohead, it's all hot garbage.