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'End of the World' not what you may think

Posted: June 27, 2012 - 11:00pm

Does anyone really enjoy getting tricked? Maybe someone has a story about getting tricked into receiving, with no strings attached, a fortune. That would be an enjoyable trick. Other than that, though, getting tricked just kind of [filtered word] you off, right?

Kids aren’t secretly hoping you’ll choose “trick!” when they pound on your door on Halloween night. “Trick! No candy here! Like, none. What are you, a ghost? Cute. No, but really, I made sure the whole neighborhood would have zero candy this year. Isn’t that a fun trick? Happy Halloween!”

“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” tricked me. Or, rather, the previews did. In this case, I’m cool assigning guilt to Steve Carell and company by association. The two and a half-minute trailer starts out, in fact, with the same footage the movie itself does: Dodge (Carell) is sitting in his car with his wife (played by Carell’s, ah, wife, Nancy Carell). They’re listening in stunned silence as the radio deejay explains that an asteroid is, indeed, going to hit Earth soon and everyone is going to die. The deejay then says cheerfully that the radio station will continue to play all the hits, right down to the end of the world.

Funny stuff. Subtle, understated and funny. The whole trailer is like that, accompanied by background music that sounds upbeat, hopeful. It’s a good trailer. After seeing it several times, I realized I was very much looking forward to this Steve Carell comedy.

Then came the 101 minute trick that was the movie itself. Technically, sure, the trailer didn’t lie. There is an asteroid headed for Earth. Said asteroid is going to kill everybody. The deejay does say the hits will keep on coming ‘til the end. Dodge does set out with his neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), to track down his high school sweetheart. They do meet and interact with some interesting, even occasionally funny people. And there are a few genuinely funny moments before the end of the world.

“Seeking a Friend” is not, however, what I would call a comedy. Not really. It’s a story about finding love. It’s a story about letting go. It’s a story about family. Most importantly, it’s a story about doing all of those things just in time for none of it to matter. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (writer of 2008’s “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”), “Seeking a Friend” is actually kind of deep. It’s actually kind of touching. Steve Carell comedies don’t typically make my wife say, as we walk to the parking lot afterward, “Man! Now I’m really sad!”

Carell, very much in “Dan in Real Life” mode, never goes beyond quiet and restrained. There is no “Kelly Clarkson!” moment, a la “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Dodge, as he tells his landlady, regrets his entire life. His wife literally runs away from him upon hearing the radio deejay’s asteroid announcement. He doesn’t talk to his dad. Carell gives Dodge an inherent sadness that makes him seem both incredibly delicate and totally kind.

Believable enough circumstances bring Penny into his life and it’s the two of them that set off on the search for his high school sweetheart. Knightley’s Penny is young, naïve, and also full of regret. Still, I was somehow just as surprised as Dodge and Penny were when they inched toward more than just friends. I actually did kind of enjoy that trick.

This Steve Carell comedy that’s not really a comedy gets capped off by Martin Sheen’s wonderful turn as Dodge’s estranged dad, Frank. As Frank and Dodge stand awkwardly in Frank’s living room, decades of silence between them, the end of the world drawing closer, I found myself wanting to reach out and force them into a group hug. Life’s too short!

“Seeking a Friend” isn’t the Steve Carell comedy the previews led me to believe it was. For most of the movie, I was more than a little annoyed by the trick. Soon, though, I was actually caring about Dodge, about Penny, even about Frank. Walking afterward to the parking lot with my newly saddened wife, I realized I was a little sad as well.

The Steve Carell comedy that’s not really a comedy wound up actually touching me. Neat trick.

•••

Television is in the midst of its summer vacation. All of the shows people love are on break, but of course that doesn’t mean we can take a break from our TVs. Are you crazy? So, we watch a lot of crap. More crap than usual, I mean.

For the Carson household, a quick boob tube snapshot can be broken down into three categories.

PAST: Not too long ago, we were watching CBS’ “The Amazing Race” religiously. Two Christmases ago, we were watching past seasons of it on iTunes while the family cooked in the kitchen. Something happened, though, and the wife and I didn’t even finish this past season. You can even tell me who won. Spoil it. I won’t mind. (I suspect the “something” that happened was that right after my wife, who is of Asian descent, and I applied to be on the show, the show featured a newly married couple – Asian wife, white husband – that wasn’t us. And they won.)

PRESENT: ABC’s “Revenge.” We just wrapped the debut season. Sorry, but as a card carrying member of the 99%, it’s impossible not to enjoy a show about a girl avenging her father’s death at the hands of some very, very evil 1% folk. Luckily, there are still plenty of jerky rich people left for the show’s heroine to punish in season two.

FUTURE: HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Friends, colleagues and blog commenters have long been swearing by this show about kingdoms, warriors, dragons, and so forth. We finally succumbed and began this week. One episode in and I’m enthralled. There are roughly 132 characters, so I don’t know who’s who yet, and there were two separate beheadings in the first five minutes. Oh, and wolf puppies. We’re in.

Finally, if you see a promo for ABC Family’s “Bunheads” and think it looks cute, that is a trick. You were warned.

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