As an asteroid nears Earth, a man (Steve Carell) finds himself alone after his wife leaves in a panic. He decides to take a road trip to reunite with his high school sweetheart. Accompanying him is a neighbor (Keira Knightley) who inadvertently puts a wrench in his plan.

Heart and humour in the countdown to Armageddon.

A giant asteroid is hurtling towards Earth and oblivion for the planet is just three weeks away. That premise sounds grimly depressing but Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is an absorbing, insightful and entertaining film, blending humour, romance, life-affirming humanity and escalating tension in the countdown to Armageddon.

an impressive debut from writer-director Lorene Scafaria

If you want to see it, be quick: Roadshow has so little faith in the film after it earned a meagre $7 million in the US, it’s showing for one week only, just one session a day at most locations.

It’s an impressive debut from writer-director Lorene Scafaria, whose only previous feature credit was the screenplay of 2008’s Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist.

Steve Carell plays Dodge Peterson, whose wife abruptly leaves him as news comes through that an attempt by astronauts to blow up the asteroid has failed. A meek and introverted man, Dodge tries to live a normal life, dutifully turning up for work at an insurance company and going to the gym, while all around him people seek solace in sex, booze, drugs and, eventually, rioting.

One night Dodge spies a young woman named Penny (Keira Knightley) sobbing on the fire escape outside his window. It turns out she’s a neighbour, she’s breaking up with her feckless boyfriend (Adam Brody) and inexplicably had been keeping his mail which had been delivered to her apartment.

One such letter is from Olivia, Dodge’s high school sweetheart whom he hadn’t seen for 18 years, and who declares he is still the love of her life. Rightly blaming herself for withholding that letter, Penny offers to help Dodge to track down Olivia while he says he’ll try to find a way of getting her back to her parents in England, despite the cancellation of all commercial flights.

Thus begins an eventful road trip for the seemingly mismatched couple, accompanied by a cute pooch whom Dodge acquired, marked by encounters with a suicidal truck driver, a restaurant where patrons and staff are about to throw themselves into an orgy, a bunch of would-be survivalists and an ever-vigilant cop, among others.

Much of the humour revolves around the banter between Dodge and the 28-year-old Penny as they grow closer, despite their age difference. Also bringing a light touch is Robb Corddry as Dodge’s devil-may-care best friend, and moments such as a TV traffic reporter signing off with the words, 'We’re f**ked, Bob".

As the world slides into chaos and anarchy as the countdown to zero continues, Dodge and Penny find a strange but highly believable level of comfort and intimacy. Questions such as hers to him – 'What are you going to do with the rest of your life?"– take on a new urgency.

Carell adopts his serious, subdued, downbeat persona, not dissimilar to his demeanour in Dan in Real Life and Crazy, Stupid, Love, in an astute, finely nuanced performance. Knightley is a bundle of nervous energy, a free spirit who radiates a kooky warmth and gentleness.

As writer and director, Scafaria ramps up the emotional intensity while resisting the temptation to be mawkish or corny, although the ending is never destined to be a happy one.