Safety Not Guaranteed
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Usually about once a year, more often if we're lucky, we get the chance to see a low budget film that is every bit as entertaining as much higher profile Hollywood fare. Last year we got Another Earth, before that it was Monsters and Moon and The Man From Earth. This time around it is Safety Not Guaranteed. This began as a joke classified ad in Backwoods Home Magazine in 1997, was later featured on Jay Leno's headlines bit, and then became a recurring internet meme. Screenwriter Connolly and director Trevorrow have fashioned it into a quirky, semi-serious, semi-comedy, maybe SF tale, full of heart and whimsy. Not everything works, some of the characters aren't very sympathetic, but overall it is a joyous experience.
The plot revolves around a writer and two interns from Seattle Magazine who decide to track down the person who placed the ad and do a feature article on him. They expect to find either a prankster or possibly a deranged person who actually believes he can time travel. In truth, the writer, Jeff (Jake Johnson from FOX's "New Girl"), is doing it as a ruse in order to reconnect with a former girlfriend he has fantasized about for years. The interns, shy and aloof Darius (Aubrey Plaza from "Parks and Recreation") and even shyer Arnau (Karan Soni) volunteer simply because there is nothing else going on at the magazine and they need something for their resumes. They share a room at a seedy motel in the coastal town of Oceanview, Washington, and Darius and Arnau begin their investigation while Jeff checks out his ex (Bergere). They stake out the post office box featured in the ad, spot a man retrieving mail from it, and Darius follows him to his place of work and finds out his name (Kenneth Carroway, played by Mark Duplass), and later his address.
Darius approaches Kenneth and convinces him she is serious about being his time travel companion. After some preliminary discussions to assess her sincerity, he slowly reveals details of his plans, although he continually thwarts her more probing questions about where and when they are going, the reasons for his trip, and the means by which they will go back in time. Kenneth is paranoid that he is being watched and followed, and later we find out that is true, possibly by government agents (Malik and Doupe). They had already spotted a weird looking engine in Kenneth's garage, and they begin to suspect he really is up to something. While this is all going on Darius and Kenneth get closer, become friends, potentially more than that. He eventually finds out their ulterior motive and runs away from them and the agents, and they discover his engine is missing too. I hesitate to say how the film ends. Is there a time machine? Will it work? Will Darius dare to go with Kenneth? Is this an SF film or is it all a smokescreen for the ravings of a lunatic? Who cares? This film is worth watching if only for the interactions of Darius and Kenneth.
Quite a few more well-known faces show up in cameos. Jeff Garlin ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") plays Darius' father, Mary Lynn Rajskub ("24") is the boss at the magazine, and Kristen Bell plays a former friend and co-worker of Kenneth's. But this really is Aubrey Plaza's film. She is a revelation. The only thing I've seen her in (and I don't even remember her) is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. My son has been trying to persuade me to watch "Parks and Recreation," and now I have a strong desire to do just that. She and Mark Duplass work very well together, and their relationship is sweet, charming and completely convincing. He has worked almost exclusively in the independent realm, and has already amassed an impressive list of credits as actor, writer, director and producer, including co-producing this film. The one negative for me was Jeff. Although I like Johnson as Nick on "New Girl," his character here is a pompous ass. But it wasn't enough to drag the rest of the film down. I would normally have a "Now in Theaters" link in the Overview column to the right, but in this case it is not in that many venues now and not likely to be either. I was completely surprised it came here, but it only lasted a week and today was the last showing. I am glad I had the chance to see it, and I'm glad I have the opportunity to recommend it to others.
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