Tag Archives: Steve Carell

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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Crazy Stupid Love

When it comes to romantic comedies, experience has taught us not to expect much substance. Forget about realism too. We automatically brace ourselves for two hours of saccharine, implausibly manufactured scenarios slanted towards pleasing a primarily female demographic. But Crazy Stupid Love takes those expectations on board, presenting a refreshing tragicomic romp designed to appeal to men and women alike. The film is thoroughly amusing and lighthearted, keeping its content familiar and accessible while packing in thoughtful details to keep the audience engaged on a deeper level.

At first glance, Crazy Stupid Love looks pretty unremarkable. The character types and plotline are familiar and predictable. A middle-aged man (Steve Carell) finds out his wife (Julianne Moore) is having an affair, so he leaves her to reassess his life and rediscover his manhood with the help of a devastatingly suave uber-bachelor (Ryan Gosling). But their performances are surprisingly charismatic and appealing, aided by fresh comedic writing. The montage of Carell’s transformation from a Gap-wearing dad to an Armani-wearing player while being bullied by Gosling is laugh-out-loud funny. And Carell’s rant on being ‘cuckolded’ comes to mind as a cleverer comic scene of despair than I’ve seen in other rom-coms.

To add dramatic irony and situational humour, there are love triangles sustained throughout the film – sure, it’s forced narrative complexity, but it’s nowhere near as contrived as what happens in Richard Curtis’ hyper-arbitrary Love Actually. Furthermore, the supporting cast involved in those love triangles add pleasant colouring to the film. In particular, the couple’s 13-year-old son (strongly acted by Jonah Bobo) is refreshing as a lovelorn tween approaching manhood himself. His character’s uncynical convictions juxtaposed with his dad’s wearied compromises are key to revealing the ‘heart’ of the film.

To its credit, Crazy Stupid Love’s strong thematic focus is served well by its technical side – the tight editing of its intercut storylines keeps the film moving at a good pace, and the thoughtful composition delivers the necessary exposition in interesting ways. There’s one long tracking shot that functions as a magical time-lapse montage of Carell’s character schmoozing with a slew of attractive women; it’s a memorable moment in which the film shows off its technical merits while still serving the story. The editing and composition are complemented by a decent soundtrack featuring the likes of Thievery Corporation and Talking Heads, largely avoiding cliched pop songs.

Crazy Stupid Love isn’t without its faults, especially as it nears its conclusion. The situations are almost cartoony, not helped by a horrifically over-the-top cameo by Marisa Tomei. But the script includes meta-commentary that addresses the unrealistic parts, making them easier for the audience to swallow. When it rains during the dramatic low point for the protagonist, he says: “What a cliche.” Indeed, aren’t most rom-coms chock full of cliches?

Thinking about other films in this genre, it seems most fall into three categories: relatively high-concept (see 13 Going on 30), topically niche (see My Big Fat Greek Wedding) or star-packed pastiche (see Love Actually). The fact that Crazy Stupid Love doesn’t follow these formulas is something to appreciate. The film clearly has a sense of humour about itself, which helps us also have a sense of humour about it as well. All in all, a good pick for a Valentine’s night in.

Crazy Stupid Love is now available on DVD. Contributor Cathy Landicho can followed on Twitter @ConfusedAmateur.