It’s the end of the world as we know it but there’s still time for opposites to attract in Lorene Scafaria’s delightfully offbeat road movie.
Infused with the writer-director’s gallows humour and an air of wistful romanticism, Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World agrees with the Mayan calendar, which prophecies the end of civilisation in 2012.
For Scafaria, the chosen method of mass destruction is an asteroid called Matilda on a collision course with Earth.
Some characters choose to commit suicide rather than face their grim fate, many others seek out friends and family, enjoying the little time that remains with the people they love.
In a glorious opening scene, insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carell) sits in a car with his wife Linda (real-life spouse Nancy Carell) as the radio reports the failure of the Space Shuttle Deliverance to divert Matilda from its trajectory.
“Stay tuned for all the latest developments on this ongoing story, as well as all your favourite classic hits,” cheerfully informs the DJ before a blast of Wouldn’t It Be Nice by the Beach Boys.
Linda flees the vehicle, never to be seen again, and poor Dodge returns to his unedifying daily routine, alone in a rapidly disintegrating world.
His married best friends Warren (Rob Corddry) and Diane (Connie Britton) attempt to set him up with vamp Karen (Melanie Lynskey) but Dodge would rather spend his final days alone.
Until, that is, he meets vinyl-obsessed English rose Penny (Keira Knightley), who is crying on the fire escape outside his window, and asks to be let in.
“I won’t steal anything if you don’t rape me,” she offers and an awkward first encounter mellows into something more meaningful.
With time running out, Dodge helps Penny to shake free of the shackles of her boyfriend Owen (Adam Brody), so that she can find a flight back home to Britain to be reunited with her family.
Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World is a bittersweet end-of-days romance, distinguished by Carell’s moving portrayal of an office drone, who doesn’t want to die alone.
He tugs heartstrings with every mournful stare, and there is a lovely cameo late in the film from a well-known actor to bring some kind of resolution to Dodge’s inner turmoil.
Knightley isn’t completely comfortable with comedy but Scafaria’s script delivers lots of belly laughs, relating the final countdown using TV and radio announcements.
There is an embarrassment of snappy one-liners – “You think Jesus was sober for his last supper?”; “I am a recovering serial monogamist” – and a deranged sequence in an American diner styled on TGI Friday’s is lip-smackingly hilarious.
However, as doomsday approaches, Scafaria cannot resist a few nods to cheesy convention.
STAR RATING: ***