Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2011) written and directed by Lorene Scafaria
A 70-mile-wide asteroid is headed for Earth in three weeks. The last attempt to destroy it has failed so everyone has to accept the fact that they are doomed. Dodge (Steve Carrell) watches as his wife runs away from him. He still goes to his insurance salesman job even though most of the other employees Don't show up. He really has nothing to do. He goes to a dinner hosted by friends who want to set him up with someone before the world ends, just so he has some company for the end. The party is full of alcohol, drugs, and sex. Dodge has no interest in any of it. He is empty and detached. He just goes home.
At his apartment building, he runs into Penny (Keira Knightley) who is breaking up with her live-in boyfriend. She has a rough time of it and, since he has nothing else to do, he comforts her. She's from England and wants to go back to see her family one last time. Also, she has a pile of his mail that accidentally got put in her box for the past couple of months (or maybe years, it's not really clear). In the pile is a letter from Dodge's first sweetheart, who is now divorced and writes that she still has affection for him. So now he has something to do. He knows someone with a plane and promises to help Penny get to her family if she will help him get back to his lost love. They start a journey together.
The movie has a great theme about getting past superficial desires and friendships. A lot of the secondary characters only want pleasure from others and are certainly happy enough to trade their own dignity or self-respect to get it. Taking care of someone else is a very different thing, as is being honest and committed to someone else. Carrell and Knightley give very good performances. Their characters both start out as cliches (Dodge is a disinterested and uninteresting guy; Penny is a manic pixie dream girl) but the actors manage to get more out of the roles.
And yet the film is unsatisfying. The actors are good but they aren't quite believable together, i.e. they lack chemistry. As friends and traveling companions they are okay; I never bought into them having a deeper relationship.
The story meanders through random scenes of how people handle the situation (the cop who still arrests people because he has a quota; the restaurant with overly friendly staff; the military bunker guys who ready to take over the world after its destroyed; the Hispanic cleaning lady who just wants to keep her schedule, seemingly unaware or unconcerned about the world ending). At one point Dodge and Penny run into a line of people who are walking to the beach single-file. At the beach, it looks like someone is baptizing people in the ocean, or maybe couples are getting married. Dodge and Penny smile winsomely and hold hands. The scene jumps to a beach picnic where everyone is having fun--even Dodge manages to smile for the first time. The whole scene leaves a lot of holes for the viewer to fill in. Did Dodge and Penny get baptized or did they just watch from the sidelines because they don't need it? Viewers are left to decide what happened. I wish the filmmakers had more courage in their own convictions than in the viewers' convictions.
The movie is sweet and has funny moments but for me it was ultimately unsatisfying. I wanted to like it and it does have good themes but it just doesn't deliver the romance or the depth I wanted. I can see it as a jumping off point for good discussions but it does not say enough on its own.
The movie is discussed on A Good Story is Hard to Find Podcast #215, where they do have a good discussion about it and they liked it much more than I did.