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Tale of Two First-Time Directors: 'People Like Us' and 'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World' Debut at LAFF

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 18, 2012 at 4:25PM

There are times when writer-directors should be allowed to direct their own material. And there are time when they should not. I would argue that "Star Trek" and "Alias" co-scribe Alex Kurtzman has more than earned his shot at directing his semi-autobiographical relationship drama "People Like Us" (June 29) even if it isn't entirely successful.

Keira Knightley has never been worse, and she's a strong actress. Steve Carell, as good as he can be, is also lost and stuck with repetitive dewy reaction close-ups. So many things are wrong, from the wildly careening tone to set and costume choices and music cues. It's easy to see how the strong script with a potentially commercial premise--how humans behave when a large object is about to crash into our planet, setting it on fire?--could get the green light. But this movie is also going to get trashed.

Here's a round-up of early LAFF reviews.

TOH's Sophia Savage:

The high point of Lorene Scafaria's "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" is when someone shouts that they want to do heroin to Radiohead, because why not? The world is ending. The apocalyptic romantic comedy is a tonal misfire, with tired pacing and redundant close-ups. Keira Knightley continues her over-acting streak, while Steve Carell plays his pathetic insurance salesman with the same likeability that infuses all his work. The actual apocalypse is secondary and mostly unseen, while the relationship between their Penny and Dodge characters casually develops as they accept the end as nigh. Its premise sets the movie up to go in a countless number of directions, and sadly it chooses the dullest, most cliched.


"Essentially, Scafaria has re-imagined Lars Von Trier's planet-smashing gloomfest Melancholia as a quirky road movie in the spirit of Alexander Payne's About Schmidt,..[Scafaria's] directing debut is a superior effort, its slightly uneven tone redeemed by the reliably sympathetic Carell in a typically deadpan suburban everyman role,..Scafaria maintains a cheerfully ironic and unpredictable tone for the first half of the movie, scoffing at vanity and self-delusion with sharply observed social observation,.. [It] leaves us with a disappointingly banal observation: all you need is love. It is hard to imagine either Alexander Payne or Lars Von Trier letting such fortune-cookie whimsy sweeten life's harsh lessons."

Seeking A Friend for the end of the World

What Culture:

"A sweet, inoffensive but ultimately awkward film with unmet aspirations of indie darling-hood. It’s a film that touches on a number of potentially interesting themes about its doomsday setting, but that never focuses convincingly in on any, and certainly never reaches a satisfying rhythm. The problem here is quite simple: this end of the world drama – come comedy – come rom-com, lacks a clear intention, it decides it actually wants to be a romantic comedy too late toward the end of the second act and suffers deeply as a result of it’s indecision,..These scenes are a nice reprieve, but eventually get discarded to give way to a bland and forgettable romantic comedy that doesn’t take full advantage of it’s doomsday context. Once it finally decides to go somewhere, it’s unfortunately nowhere special."

This article is related to: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Reviews, Reviews

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.