Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Derek Connolly
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni
Release date: December 26th, 2012
Running time: 86 minutes
Best part: The chemistry between Plaza and Duplass.
Worst part: Awkward moments of sketch comedy.
Time travel is a vital element of science-fiction. Time travel films like Looper became major hits last year and ignited heated debates on the subject. In the wake of this blockbuster fare, Safety Not Guaranteed hit the film festival circuit. This indie-dramedy is a sure fire winner, illustrating that low-key sci-fi should strive for recognition. It’s a sweet and inventive look at strange people toying with even stranger possibilities.
Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) is a lonely, unenthusiastic college graduate trying anything to get through each day. Failing to qualify for employment at a bar & grill, Darius is heavily and unhealthily reliant on her internship at a local magazine. However, life takes a turn when her boss Jeff (Jake Johnson) responds to an advertisement in a local newspaper. It reads “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. PO Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” Darius, Jeff and naive intern Arnau (Karan Soni) investigate the source of this unusual message. Their road trip takes them to a small seaside town, where the message’s author Kenneth (Mark Duplass) resides. Darius and Kenneth become acquainted and their eerily similar personalities draw them together. Safety Not Guaranteed excels at blatant honesty. The well written script, by first-time feature writer Derek Connolly, bases its humour on life’s inevitable restraints.
Safety Not Guaranteed’s weird subject matter may throw some people off, but human interaction is the main focus here. It not simply about how these conflicting personalities clash but how the world responds to the character’s perplexing desires. This quirky drama willingly balances between witty comedy and tragedy. Director Colin Trevorrow’s début feature is a profound journey into the heart and mind. His grounded direction makes this surreal story of time travel, regret and redemption easier to comprehend. Sparky dialogue, unadulterated humour and kinetic montages create a touching love story with a distinct independent film-making style. However, the film switches at points from intimate dramedy to awkward situational comedy. Despite Kenneth’s detachment from the community, his peculiar, and at points criminal, actions uncomfortably stand out in this heart-warming tale. This dynamic ensemble of cynical, immature and sarcastic characters provides an undying sense of charm. The characters are hauntingly real. They see the forest through the trees as their grasp on reality crumbles before their eyes. Fresh out of college, Darius is a rebellious and sardonic individual. The film’s opening scenes depict her solemn exile from the rest of her peers. Normally an unshakeably pessimistic lead character would divert the heart-warming story, but here her attitude is part of the bigger picture. Kenneth is both extremely paranoid and overly confident. Both traits somehow seem necessary for a character this deep into his own startling fantasy.
“The mission has been updated. I’m going back for you now. All right. Do you trust me?” (Kenneth (Mark Duplass), Safety Not Guaranteed).
Similarly to Liberal Arts, a controversial relationship is softened by instant chemistry. Slowly building to an imaginatively silly goal, their relationship is enjoyable to watch. Their journey begins with an energetic interrogation. Darius’ intuitive reporter side clashes with Kenneth’s paranoia. They tussle with conflicting emotions and an Andy Warhol-esque assortment of Campbell’s Soup Cans. The horny yet charismatic Jeff and the hilariously shy Arnau complete this diverse cast of characters. Jeff’s reconnection with old girlfriend Liz (Jenica Bergere) is touching in certain scenes yet fails to connect with the story’s core themes. The film is grounded by naturalistic performances from prominent TV actors. Plaza (Parks and Recreation) is arguably the queen of dead pan comedy. She uses her snarky persona to illustrate her character’s misanthropic detachment from the world. Duplass (The League, Your Sister’s Sister) portrays Kenneth with his usual on-screen quirkiness. Kenneth is a tough nut to crack for this group of budding journalists. Is he insane, stupid, or in fact the world’s next scientific genius? Duplass’ Mumblecore roots energise his enigmatic yet sympathetic performance. Darius and Kenneth’s unusual personalities create a shaky yet sentimental relationship. They both have profound reasons for escaping the present. Their heartache pushes them to the edge as their promising relationship builds.
While Safety Not Guaranteed lacks the thrills of big-budget sci-fi, its heart is in the right place. The film poses the question “what would you do if you could go back in time?”, but never abruptly pushes the idea upon its audience.