A scene from the film Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Keira Knightley has made her name with a series of roles (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice, The Duchess) that require her to be serious, intense and occasionally highly-strung. Leaving aside her role in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, she hasn’t really done a lot of comedy in film. Now comes her new film, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which passes itself off as a comedy, but is lacking in wit and amusing moments.
It’s a story about - yes - the end of the world; a comic treatment of that subject just could be a quirky delight, but instead this feels faintly desperate. News reaches Planet Earth that a giant asteroid is hurtling towards it in three weeks’ time, and cannot be stopped. Steve Carell plays Dodge, a mild-mannered insurance salesman. His wife takes the news well; she leaves Dodge on the spot.
Knightley plays his neighbour, a single Englishwoman named Penny who wants to get back to Britain to see her relatives before the asteroid hits. Together they set off on a road trip to help make her wish come true.
The big problem is that the two lead performances seem to have come from different films. Carell is a past master of deadpan verging on morose, and plays Dodge true to form. Knightley is grating and mannered; Penny may be good-looking, but she’s also meant to be ‘kooky,’ an extrovert, faintly bohemian personality. Unhappily, she’s irritating beyond belief, never more when she’s lecturing Dodge about the virtues of music heard on old-fashioned vinyl.
The film starts out as a satire, as Dodge’s friends decide to dispense with conventional morality and start binging on drugs and wild sex. But on their road trip, it gets more serious – if not remotely more interesting.
Its screenwriter Lorene Scafaria is making her directing debut here, and it shows. She simply can’t find a way for these two characters (her creations, after all) to seem like a plausible couple.
None of this will hurt Knightley, who has appeared in a handful of forgettable movies (Domino, Silk, Last Night, London Boulevard) and lived to tell the tale. But as for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, I found myself wishing the asteroid would speed up on its journey to collide with Earth. That probably wasn’t a good sign.
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