I've been a fan of Steve Carell ever since I saw the first minute of the US version of The Office on NBC in March 2005. Carell's roles in Bruce Almighty (2003) and Anchorman (2004) were good and funny, but he just didn't jump out as me as an actor to care about until that opening scene of The Office with John Krasinski. The show became an instant favorite and Carell a favorite actor. Between that first moment of The Office in 2005 and the end of 2007, I was treated to the first three glorious seasons of The Office and the three films that I deem to be Carell's best: The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and Dan In Real Life (2007). In this short amount of time I was given a great TV comedy, one of my top comedic films of all time, and two of my favorite feel-good movies that I can rewatch at any time no matter the circumstances.
I watched these episodes and movies habitually through the end of high school (which was 2009 for me), but by that time I'd noticed that Carell's recent output wasn't as high caliber as it had once been. The Office had peaked (admittedly by Rainn Wilson, in season two), and though I watched every episode until the recent series finale this past spring, it's clear that it noticeably deteriorated during the last few seasons with Carell and suffered even further in the two seasons without him (although it redeemed itself in the second half of the ninth and final season). Whereas my season one and two DVDs of The Office have some of the most wear out of my entire collection and even three and four saw a lot of usage, I still haven't even played every disc from season 5, and seasons 6 through 8 I still have yet to remove from the packaging. As far as Carell's movies went, Get Smart (2008) was more of the Evan Almighty pseudo-slapstick comedy I didn't cherish, Date Night (2010) was a big letdown, and Dinner For Schmucks (2010) just rubbed me the wrong way. I actually did enjoy Crazy Stupid Love (2011), but The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013) resumed the train of bad movies from an actor I'd grown to like more as a person and less as an actor (at least as far as script choices go).
As a Steve Carell fan, I had mentally categorized Seeking a Friend for the End of The World as a Steve Carell movie, and it is only in this regard that I seek to comment on the film. I didn't see it in theaters, so when I finally rented it a few weeks ago only one question was on my mind: Is this going to be a good movie? The simple answer is yes. Being disappointed by 80% of the past five Carell films I'd seen had left me in a state of apathy. How enjoyable a pleasant surprise in life can be, and in cinema the experience is no different.
The premise is exactly as the title describes, and very early on in the film a strong tone of stark realism is established. With a few end of the world movies at least partially falling under the comedy genre that came out in the past couple years I can come up with off the top of my head, I prefer the approach utilized here. Even if a cameo by Rihanna or Emma Watson makes for a good laugh (This Is The End, 2013), this style of humor often strikes me as shallow and reflects on the lack of substance in the film that resorts to it. It's entertainment, I know, but it's substance that separates a film I see once and a film I make an investment to own and watch multiple times throughout the course of my lifetime. Just as Little Miss Sunshine and Dan In Real Life offer seemingly real characters and relatable life situations, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World upholds this approach, which as far as I'm concerned is a very good thing. They're not pure comedies, and their pacing reflects this characteristic.
Steve Carell and Keira Knightley work together well as on-screen leads. Their combination feels a lot less out of place than Jim Carey and Zooey Deschanel in Yes Man (2008) or Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation (2004, although with this last one the age difference was clearly intentional). I've always liked scenes with Carell projecting sarcasm, and the level of cynicism achieved in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is something I savor. I like Keira Knightley's role because her character is very different than what I've seen her do before. It's challenging to the viewer because she's quirky and less sexy than in some of her other roles (in this regard much like Natalie Portman's character in Garden State, 2004). If there were no variation in an actor's roles, I'd question whether he or she was acting at all (my biggest complaint with the tedious repetition of Zooey Deschanel). Adam Brody has a very brief role in the movie which I didn't care for because his character crosses that boundary of believable which the rest of the characters achieve so well, but since his importance and screentime is so minor this lapse is forgivable.
As a longtime fan of Steve Carell, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World was a surprisingly refreshing film that renewed my hope in this actor's career and ultimately proved to be quite thought provoking due to its more realistic approach of the apocalypse. It's not being robbed by Hermione Granger, and it's not Bruce Willis dying on a meteor; for me, it was just right.