Tag Archives: Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World | review

You could be forgiven for thinking that a film about how two people spend their last three weeks before an asteroid collides with Earth would be a sci-fi drama. But despite the high-concept, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is nothing more or less than a delightful romcom. Rammed with wit and warmth, it delivers heartily on the rom (the apocalypse acting as a metaphysical Cilla Black) and com (the apocalypse is a rich source of fatalistic humour) fronts.

This is not a sober Melancholia-style cataclysm, it’s more like ‘Naked Gun doesn’t do apocalypses but if it did….’ All is good-natured chaos, from the end-of-days countdown on the nightly news to the public posters offering the opportunity to fuck a virgin. Plodding round this circus is Dodge (Steve Carell) who’s in no mood to seize the moment as his wife has just literally run off. While his middle-aged friends throw Eyes Wide Shut-for-embarrassing-dad-style parties where they take acid and tear up the rulebook on fidelity, he stoically continues to go into work. The only revelation that takes root as his certain death grows closer is that he should seek out his high-school sweetheart, the lost love of his life.

So far, so downbeat, but then Keira Knightley appears in full Clementine from Eternal Sunshine…, Manic Pixie Dream Girl mode. Her character Penny is a record-loving, impulsive, hypersomniac and the pair end up involved in a buddy-movie road trip as they try to get to the people that matter the most before it’s too late. It’s no surprise that Carell, whose eyes are brown pools of kindness mingled with weariness, holds his own as a downtrodden wit with a big heart (See Little Miss Sunshine and last year’s Crazy Stupid Love for previous form). The revelation is Knightley who, although not quite lost in her character, has an infectious energy that sets the pace. Both she and the film possess the good-natured gait of a puppy that’s never been kicked and they race towards the finishing line with giddy abandon.

While the film is about the blossoming relationship between this oddball duo, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World gives generous time to the supporting cast and their subplots. Whether it’s the emotional truck driver for whom three weeks is still an eternity to wait to bid goodbye to the cruel world or Patton Oswalt’s opportunistic sleaze-ball bowled over with excitement at abounding sexual openness, these colourful characters provide regular blasts of entertainment. A climate of hysteria rises and falls and our leads’ ability to empathise with each other in these extreme circumstances makes us root for them.

Some developments feel unlikely but the logic of ‘this is the apocalypse’ sucks up and owns all bizarre swivels. Warmth pulses from every frame. Penny’s record love manifests in classic after classic. Wardrobe and colour palette are all gentle pastels and solid primaries. Liberally sprinkled are cameos so delightful and unexpected that your face will break out in smiles.

It’s amusing and a little odd that such a tragic concept is given such wholesome treatment (there’s a white picket fence knocking about) but once you see through the disguise of the subject to a solid and heartfelt romcom, all is well. This is a well-written, warm treat of a film about a pair whose unlikeliness is aspirational to anyone who wants to believe that love can grow against all odds.

Contributor Sophie Monks Kaufman can be followed on Twitter @Sopharsogood.

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Characters I Love #11 – Kate Winslet as Clementine – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a rare gem of the romance genre. On paper, its plot sounds maddeningly complex – Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) appear to be embarking upon a new relationship, only to find out that they are ex-lovers who both recently underwent procedures to have each other erased from their memories. If, like me, you watched this film after emerging from a long-term relationship, it feels refreshingly realistic. Haven’t we all wished we could erase painful memories from a failed relationship, but have to accept that the bad came with loads of good? It’s a basic idea, delivered in an innovative way.

As if the mind-erasing alone wasn’t challenging enough, the bulk of the film actually takes place in Joel’s mind, where we see his memories of Clem being erased in reverse chronological order. Before long, Joel’s consciousness recalls their happy memories together, decides he wants to stop the erasing process, and tries to hide Clem in the recesses of his brain. Oh, and their original relationship’s rewound story is framed by post-erasure Joel and Clem trying to figure out if they should give it a(nother) go. Talk about high-concept. Although it sounds heavy-going, the action flows quite sensibly and doesn’t distract from the development of the characters’ nuanced psychological portraits. Charlie Kaufman’s pithy screenplay combined with Michel Gondry’s sensitive vision creates an accessibly profound portrayal of a tumultuous relationship and its aftermath.

Eternal Sunshine relies on its female romantic lead to provide its spark, and Kate Winslet’s Clementine does not disappoint. She’s a scene-stealer, playing against type as a Jim-Carrey-esque character opposite the man himself. Clem is an inspiringly quirky and energetic girl, not unlike familiar characters such as Zooey Deschanel’s Summer (500 Days of Summer) or Natalie Portman’s Sam (Garden State) – but she manages to transcend the stock character type.

While Clem’s alluring and sexy, she’s also aggressive in a candid way; when Joel cuts a conversation short, she punches him hard in the arm in a mock-friendly gesture, out of frustration. Credit goes to Winslet for that – the punch wasn’t in the script. Clem is confident yet aware of her limitations; yes, she dyes her hair wacky colours, but she self-deprecatingly comments: “I apply my personality in a paste.” Her painful self-awareness adds a compelling darker side to her quirky appeal – we see her spike her midday diner cup of coffee with alcohol from a flask, openly self-medicating. Winslet doesn’t allow Clem’s antics to become cartoonish – her restless, demanding energy clearly masks her vulnerability and deep-seated insecurity.

To the film’s credit, Clementine’s candidly self-aware presentation is partly possible because half the time, she is a construction, a manifestation of Joel’s consciousness while they try to outrun the memory-erasers. This allows a reflexive level of commentary not usually credible in films. Clem can say things like, “you know me, I’m impulsive” and it doesn’t sound artificial. It’s a nifty structural device – in novels, characters can self-reflect through third-person narration or interior monologues, but in films, the usual option is breaking the fourth wall. Kaufman’s screenplay innovatively circumvents this.

In comparison to other onscreen female romantic leads, Kate Winslet’s Clementine stands apart by insisting on not being idealized. As James Brown sang, it’s a man’s world. So it’s not unexpected that so many films feature some guy’s fantasy of a woman – a sexy, mysteriously appealing object of affection put up on a pedestal – rather than anything approaching the real thing. Men – in the films as well as the audiences – end up falling in love with the idea of the girl instead of the girl herself; a mildly irritating situation for the girls in the audience, because it happens in real life all too often. But Clem’s pre-dating spiel is: “Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. But I’m just a fucked-up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind; don’t assign me yours.” Finally, an upfront rejection of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl myth! No mystery, no pedestal – just an independent, vibrant, openly flawed woman doing her best. I just wish we saw more female characters like this on screen.