Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World vs. Extraterrestrial, two films about the strange and funny lengths to which people go when they think life as they know it is soon to disappear.
Premise In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Steve Carell and Keira Knightley play two wayward souls who are attempting to cope with the bummer news that an asteroid is going to collide with the Earth in three weeks, and nothing can be done about it. They’re both singles living in the same apartment building, but thankfully the trailer doesn’t imply they get together romantically—rather, as the title suggests, they become apocalypse buddies, trying to get their lives sorted out as the asteroid gets closer. Extraterrestrial likewise concerns a man and woman thrown together by apocalyptic conditions: Julián Villagrán plays Julio, a young man who wakes up in the apartment of the girl of his dreams, Julia (Michelle Jenner), after a one-night stand—and soon finds he can’t leave, because there are UFOs hovering in the sky overhead. As the day goes on, strange characters from Julia’s life keep appearing—including, maybe, a boyfriend named Carlos? (It was a little hard to keep up with this bit in a subtitled two-minute trailer, but presumably it’s a little clearer in the film itself.) We’re giving this point to Extraterrestrial, because the question of what would happen if you were forced by aliens to hang out for ages with the person you’d slept with once is a funny one, and one we’ve never thought to ask before. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World seems like a good movie, but we don’t think its Melancholia-meets-The Bucket List premise is especially original. Advantage: Extraterrestrial
Cast Unfortunately, Extraterrestrial is going to suffer here for being a foreign film—Julián Villagrán and Michelle Jenner both seem, from IMDb’s summaries, to have pretty solid careers in their native Spain, but we’d never heard of either one before this moment. For what it’s worth, they’re both very cute. But Seeking a Friend for the End of the World has this locked up—in addition to Carell and Knightley, it features a bunch of delightful actors in smaller roles (Patton Oswalt, Gillian Jacobs, Rob Corddry, Connie Britton, and our old pal Melanie Lynskey). Advantage: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Laughs Both films make hay out of their conceits, mining the awkwardness that results when people are forced to react in a human way to bigger-than-life issues. The best joke in End of the World‘s trailer have to do with the idea that even with three weeks left to live, people will act as they always do—”We’ll be bringing you our countdown to the end of days, along with all your favorite classic-rock hits,” intones a DJ at the trailer’s beginning; Carell’s boss insists that his employees are free to turn the whole week into Casual Friday (and that if anyone wants to be CFO, the position’s open). In Extraterrestrial, the humor’s a little more subtle—the tense moment between Julio and Julia when he says the coffee she’s made is too hot; Julia insists that sleeping with Julio isn’t cheating, “it’s more complicated”—as though that makes a difference, with aliens in the sky. Overall, though, End of the World looks to be the movie that’ll have us actually laughing (rather than wrily grinning throughout). Though we’ll admit we groaned when we saw “Friendsy’s,” the TGI Friday’s parody (didn’t we get that out of our systems last decade?), End of the World wins the category. Advantage: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Apocalyptic Plausibility Okay, so to get this out of the way, obviously neither of these movies is especially realistic. That’s fine! They’re not supposed to be! But with that said, we were a little turned off by the pat “the final mission to save mankind has failed” at the beginning of the End of the World trailer. We know it’s there so we can suspend our disbelief and engage with these characters as people who are completely certain their lives are ending—but, still, really? All of humankind’s just going to give up with three weeks left to go? We’ve known some engineers in our day, and we think they’d at least keep trying. (Maybe that’s the twist?) Conversely, in Extraterrestrial, the spaceships just show up overnight—it truly is out of human control. Somehow, we find that more believable. Advantage: Extraterrestrial
Director Seeking a Friend for the End of the World was written by Lorene Scafaria, a lady(!). It’s her directorial debut, but she’s also written a couple of things (including the lovely and underrated Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) and acted in a few more. She’s promising, but Extraterrestrial director Nacho Vigalondo’s got more experience under his belt—he’s directed a variety of shorts, a TV show, and a previous feature, the well-received Timecrimes. He’s also been nominated for an Oscar, for his short film 7:35 in the Morning. Advantage: Extraterrestrial
The Verdict Though Seeking a Friend for the End for the World seems like a fun little romp, with some of the same sweet qualities we liked about Nick and Norah, we have to confess that Steve Carell movies have been on a streak of disappointing us lately. (We saw Crazy, Stupid, Love and Date Night. We saw them both.) If we had to say which film seemed more intriguing, it’s definitely the oddball Extraterrestrial. Winner: Extraterrestrial
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