Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Better than average

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on June 25, 2012 on tonymacklin.net.

Safety Not Guaranteed is an indie flight of fancy.

As an indie, it might crash on the shoals of self-indulgence, but it doesn't. It's fresh and imaginative. It doesn't reach the stars (the creators obviously are fans of Star Wars), but it does make it into the clouds.

However, its best moments are when it is grounded in the absurdity and whimsy of the human condition.

Safety Not Guaranteed is the tale of a trio of writers for a Seattle magazine who pursue a story initiated by a classified ad one of them has seen. The ad - there actually was such an ad - is seeking a partner for time travel.

Intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) travels with staff writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) to find the man who placed the ad.

The would-be time traveler has a Post Office box in Ocean View, Washington. Jeff's major purpose in travelling to the oceanfront area is to revisit a woman (Jenica Bergere) with whom he had a relationship as a young man on summer vacation. Arnau basically is along for the ride, to bolster his credentials.

They find their man Kenneth (Mark Duplass), who is a grocery clerk who is planning to go back in time.

Darius and Kenneth form a tenuous bond, as he plans his time travel and trains her to be prepared to join him as his potential partner. They both have memories that provoke them.

Aubrey Plaza is convincing as the no-nonsense, anti-social Darius. The alienated Darius is even more the focus of the movie than the alienated Kenneth.

Mark Duplass portrays Kenneth, who has yearning visions of time travelling and powerful, paranoid fears of the world and its agents around him.

Jake Johnson has a Mark Ruffalo quality as the willful, impulsive but occasionally caring staff writer on vacation.

Karan Soni plays the shy, introverted Indian intern.

Veteran television actresses Kristen Bell and Mary Lynn Rajskub make solid appearances.

Director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly both attended NYU and were interns for Saturday Night Live. They make a creative duo.

Their whimsy is low-key - absurd but engaging. It's amusing but also often natural.

Safety Not Guaranteed has some of the chemistry between vulnerable characters that was such an asset in The Station Agent (2003), written and directed by Tom McCarthy.

Safety Not Guaranteed is about awakenings and reawakenings. Its characters embark on personal journeys. They don't realize where their quests might take them.

One might opt for a less fanciful ending, but Safety Not Guaranteed isn't contrived. It just ends with a debatable flourish.

It's not an ending that Tom McCarthy would have chosen. But Trevorrow and Connolly have earned suspension of our disbelief.

Their journey takes them to La-La Land. It's a pleasant - if not entirely credible - destination. We'll be tolerant this time.

But to paraphrase a character they know well, "Great, kids. Don't get cocky."


You might be interested in reading my most recent reviews, all of my reviews from this year, or all of my reviews from last year.

For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).


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