Review: Safety Not Guaranteed
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, Mark Duplass, and Karan Soni
Plot: A magazine writer and his two interns investigate a classified ad looking for a partner to travel back in time.
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a disillusioned college graduate trying to earn her way in a non-paying internship at a Seattle magazine. When one of the staff writers, Jeff (Jake Johnson), gets a lead on a quirky classified ad looking for a time travel partner, she jumps at the chance for something unique and out there. They are also joined by Arnau (Karan Soni), another one of the interns. Darius is a chronic eye roller (Plaza’s go to move) and lacks real people skills. She seems to long for human connection, but the death of her mother and her natural cynicism seems to get in her way. Arnau is equally awkward. Even more so. He is scared and timid in almost every situation. He occasionally drums up enough confidence to compliment a pretty girl, but he is usually forced back into his shell when Jeff makes a snarky remark. Jeff hides behind his snark and his alpha dog attitude. The fact that he embraced the bachelor lifestyle makes him scared and angry that he never jumped at the chance for roots.
“Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.”
This is the classified ad that sparks this ragtag team of social outcasts to investigate. Time travel is such a touchy subject. There is far too much room for error. The best ones keep the techno-babble to a minimum (except Primer, which just runs circles around you with it), and usually embrace another genre like horror (see: Timecrimes) or comedy (see: Back to the Future). Safety Not Guaranteed opts for comedy, but not just any comedy, a quirky indie comedy with roots to the mumblecore movement. The biggest proof of that is casting Mark Duplass as the would-be time traveler, Kenneth. He has been at the center of the mumblecore movement since its inception. He brings a natural sincerity to every role. He is certainly to thank for making Kenneth less creepy. His mental state is questionable throughout the movie, yet Kenneth’s overall likeability allows us to keep hope that he is who he says he is. The ability to make a character both threatening and innocent is not an easy task.
The characterizations aside, the plot is a little too weak. The romantic plot between Darius and Kenneth feels a little forced. Their time spent together is overflowing with chemistry, but there is a certain leap from friends to lovers that is never well-defined. It just seems to happen. Yet this romantic plot is given the primary focus. There is a subplot that despite feeling tacked on ends up elevating above the main plot. This subplot seems to get tacked on as if the writer forgot that there was 2 other characters not doing anything while Darius was off with Kenneth preparing for time travel. Jeff decides to do some real time travelling using this trip as an opportunity to hook up with an old flame. The two of them really hit it off reliving old times. With her, Jeff sees a history and the roots he so selfishly refused for so long. Unfortunately, his love interest has already been through one divorce and is hesitant to jump into another commitment. This sends Jeff into a spiral of depression filling the void with alcohol. At the same time, he focuses all his energy in getting the timid Arnau laid. Jake Johnson deserves a lot of credit here. He fades in and out of sadness and hysteria, but he makes a strong bond with Arnau.
Safety Not Guaranteed ironically plays it safe in terms of plot. It is short on belly laughs, but has a truck load of smile inducing quirkiness. Any and all misgivings rest confidently on the shoulders of an amazing cast who are worth the price of admission.