Restaurant at the End of the World
The end of the world, or the apocalypse. Stories, themes and elements that have always found an intriguing place in cinema, and in recent years, some of the more memorable ones include Japan's Fish Story, to Lars von Trier's Melancholia, which I have to admit its final scene leaving me gasping for breath. But Seeking a Friend for the End of the World isn't all that serious, though serious enough to discuss the same issues that deal with the probable collapse of our moral compass, with morality going to the dogs during the countdown to Earth's end of days, yet leaving room for light comedic touches without going overboard into slapstick. Writer-director Lorene Scafaria seemed to have struck gold with this.
Tremendous work had gone into the story, exploring, probing, creating subplots that had gone into eventful, closed loops, that by the time the finale rolls by, it's satisfying, moving, and you'd feel a sense of having sat through carefully concocted reminders about life itself without the feeling of it being overbearing. It takes a what if approach in its premise, presenting that remote possibility of a 70 mile wide asteroid hurling toward's Earth's orbit, with the final attempt to change its trajectory botched. There's no Bruce Willis and crew from Armaggedon here, so everyone is given 3 weeks to impact, and the extinction of mankind as we know it.
When faced with an end of days, the film probably covered the widest spectrum of how the general populace would behave. Will you dabble in things that you haven't done before, or close yourself underground, buckled down with supplies that will see you through survival for at least six months? Or will you set caution to the wind, and engage in vices from drugs to obsessive drinking, and having as much sex as possible, knowing that the threat of disease has no meaning when all life is given a deadline? Will you still want to maintain all morality that defines humanity, or subscribe to the mob and throw humanity out of the window? Granted that this film didn't really exhaust a huge budget, it did enough to present the last three weeks of mankind, both the good aspects, and the worst of it.
And Lorene Scafaria does it through the use of two primary characters in Steve Carell's Dodge and Keira Knightley's Penny, two neighbours who didn't know of each other's existence, until all hell breaks loose, and through chance, discover that they can click. Well, quite. Dodge's wife Linda (Nancy Carell, Steve's real life wife) decided to just literally run away when all hope is lost, and leaves Dodge in quite the dejected state, not knowing why his marriage vows didn't last through to the end, and reminisces about his high school sweetheart who actually got away. Penny has just broken up with her no good boyfriend, and together, while escaping from the mob, made an impromptu, informal pact, that she will help him muster up some courage while seeking out his lost love, given her last known address from 3 months ago, while he will help her find an airplane good enough to send her back to her family.
It's a road trip of sorts, similar to Scafaria's earlier screenplay of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, only set to an apocalyptic background. There's good music, enjoyed through vinyl no less, wacky and zany situations that the duo find themselves (the diner with its constantly high staff stood out the most), and plenty of time to perform that soul search, while inevitably falling in love. There's plenty of real world truths put on the table for discussion, and will touch a raw nerve when you put yourself in the same shoes. For the first time feature film director, no fancy stunts were pulled, presenting the film in honest terms that focused on the story it wanted to tell, rooted by the leading characters. What I liked about it is that it didn't try to be deliberately funny, but humour comes and exists only because that's probably the most light hearted manner to approach known annihilation given a preparatory lead time.
I had enjoyed the films that Steve Carell had starred in, but I especially enjoy the more dramatic characters he portrays, such as the titular character in Dan in Real Life, or even Crazy, Stupid, Love. He brings to life the average Joe that everyone can relate to, and has a knack and flair in bringing comedy to those roles without being blatant or overt about it. And Keira Knightley pairs up really well with him here, being that live wire, and kooky lass who sleeps extremely soundly, with emotional baggage brought along for the trip. Scafaria's tale evolved from its premise, exploring mortality and morality, before scoping it down to a more intimate portrait about two strangers who find friendship and love, and thankfully these two actors made it oh so believable, and sweet, although there were times, given the script, that the mid-section felt bogged down by its conversations.
Still, it's that aged old reminder about never leaving behind regrets that's wrapped around by the narrative, and the finale really sledgehammered emotions through with the introduction of Martin Sheen's character, that one will inevitably tear as it reaches its conclusion, coupled with that final parting by Mark Moses' television anchorman who pops up at random scenes as a checkpoint within those 3 weeks. Relationships boil down to not how much time we spend with one another, but the quality of those times spent that matters. And that is an adage that never goes out of fashion, drawing attention to itself in this moving piece of work. I'll be seeking out a friend too, to experience this again. Highly recommended, and a definite plus as one of the top films of this year!