His character's angst attributable to almost nothing, Carell has little to play here but the same put-upon nice guy he's already done and done again. So he surrenders the movie to Knightley, who exercises rote "quirky girl" mannerisms to an obsessive-compulsive degree, her eyes alone overacting so hard it's like they're doing hot yoga on amphetamines. It's the kind of role, conceived to be dithering-helpless-eccentric-charming, that too often plays instead as annoying. Knightley makes it really annoying. She's certainly been capable before — and might yet be in Joe Wright's forthcoming Anna Karenina, scripted by Tom Stoppard. Here she's so forcedly over-agitated she sucks life from scenes in which she never seems to be acting with fellow cast-members, but rather with line-feeders or a video monitor. It's an empty, showy performance whose neurotically artificial character one can only imagine a naturally reserved man like Dodge would flee from.
That we're supposed to believe otherwise stunts Scafaria's parting exhale of pure girly romanticism — admirable for its wish-fulfillment sweetness, lamentable for the extent that good actors in two-dimensional roles can't turn passionate language into emotion we believe in.
SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters.
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