Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) / Comedy-Sci Fi
MPAA rated: R for language and sexual references
Running time: 86 min.
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Mark Duplass, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere, Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Screenplay: Derek Connolly
Review published October 18, 2012
A Seattle magazine reporter named Jeff (Johnson, No Strings Attached) and two of his interns travel to a rural Washington town to investigate the story behind am anonymous personal ad requesting a partner to assist in a time-travel mission. Aubrey Plaza (Scott Pilgrim, 'Parks and Recreation') is the main star as one of the two interns, Darius Britt, who befriends the time-traveler-wannabe Kenneth (Duplass, Your Sister's Sister), who is looking for someone to accompany him on what might be a dangerous mission. As Darius gets to know Kenneth, she realizes she's him for the sweet-natured (but melancholy) and passionate man that he is, just like her, even though he just might be absolutely crazy.
This quirky indie comedy should feel familiar for those who enjoy the works of Mark and Jay Duplass, who are credited as two of the film's executive producers, along with Mark taking one of the prominent roles as the off-center Kenneth. The Duplass brothers specialize in finding redemption for alienated misfits, and Safety Not Guaranteed certainly falls under that banner to a tee. Dryly cynical, the comedy succeeds due to the amusing characterizations and oddball situations much more than any sense of slapstick or witticisms, though it doesn't shy away from either.
Based on the award-winning screenplay by first-time feature screenwriter Derek Connolly, who based the idea on a real-life advertisement with a similar message, debut director Colin Treverrow keeps the tone quirky and sardonic throughout, often allowing the amateurish nature of the film play as one of the more endearing strengths. Solid casting bolsters the comedic qualities, with Plaza in particular, in her first big screen starring role, showing a good amount of range for what isn't necessarily written to be a deep character to portray. Jake Johnson gets many of the film's more amusing lines as the self-centered jerk of a reporter, Jeff, who sees the entire mission as an extended vacation in Ocean View, WA, whereby he can hook up with a high school fling named Liz (Bergere, Yours Mine and Ours) in the hope that she will oblige him with some attention yet again 20 years later.
The humor is mild, but the film is pleasant enough in general, even when a needless subplot involving government agents looking for Kenneth is introduced, setting up the movie's climax. Although the film dabbles with science fiction in the 'time travel' aspect, the movie plays more like a light comedy, sometimes romantic and dramatic, with themes that have little to do with time travel so much as a remembrance of, and yearning for, fonder days than the current ones. That, and the desire for many to correct many of the mistakes of the past in the hope of experiencing a better present.
©2012 Vince Leo