Frantic Fun: 'Safety Not Guaranteed' Review
Seeing as how it’s time travel month and all, I guess I can just neglect to write this review, and all the others in the month, and just come back and add them all in later, right? Great. See you all in a month!
On second thought seeing as how I don’t have a Doc Brown to support my lackadaisical Marty McFly-self, I guess I’m obligated to do my job like some kind of a schmo – besides, this is a pretty sweet gig. What’s more, this week’s film is an excellently funny and energetic sci-fi/romance whose simple quality of being above average in enjoyment makes writing this review worth it considering the types of films I’m used to talking about (i.e. terrible ones).
Filmed and marketed with a meager budget of $750 000, Safety Not Guaranteed is the brainchild of debuting writer Derek Connolly who was inspired to craft this compact yet totally satisfying tale of love and nostalgia after seeing a classified ad asking for volunteer time travelers. In the film, a similar ad draws the attention of a magazine writer (Jake M. Johnson) and his two loyal interns (Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni) to investigate the man behind the advertisement (Mark Duplass) and test the purported veracity of his claims to having time traveled before.
As far as “indie” in the pejorative sense goes, Safety Not Guaranteed is indie in budget only. Free from genre clichés (as indie has become more of an independent genre or style rather than a term denoting any film made under an extremely limited budget) and appeals to a certain audience in hopes of finding some carefully targeted profit at the box office, the film's humble financial background only bolsters its “backyard engineering” aesthetic. With a plot that doesn’t set out to achieve much narratively but grants immense emotional returns nonetheless without becoming kitschy or absurd, it comes as a surprise that this is not only Connolly’s but also Colin Trevorrow’s directorial debut. Although the framing and cinematography of the film are simple and strictly functional, the frenetic pacing that drives the film is in complete sync with the movie’s digestible story and the seamless union of script and screen is a joy to watch unfold.
But the central talents behind this film’s infectious charm and easygoing attitude are the actors and actress who play the oftentimes funny yet still sympathetic characters. Centerstage is the barely unhinged – yet still unhinged enough to cause significant unease – Kenneth, portrayed by the always excellent Mark Duplass. By keeping the audience guessing as to how crazy Kenneth really is, Duplass is the wildcard hook of the film. Although his immediate lunacy offers up a healthy dose of hilarity, he ultimately serves as a romantic interest and secondary character to Aubrey Plaza’s mildly depressed Darius. Shedding her usual venomously sarcastic demeanor, Plaza injects the film with a sobering sense of debilitating insecurity that everyone watching the film can too readily relate to – perhaps uncomfortably so. That’s not to say she’s the Debbie Downer in a film also featuring your standard tech-savvy Indian virgin who still manages to stay refreshingly funny in spite of the overt cliché and a cynical reporter whose rigid skepticism echoes the audience’s but is also capable of dishing out always amusing silver-tongued wit at a moment’s notice. Plaza’s character is, in fact, the most complex of the lot and is what truly ascends this film from being “funny” to being an all-around great film. Her chemistry with Duplass and her on-screen versatility gives the film that inimitable Plaza droll humor while avoiding making her a carbon copy of her Parks and Rec character.
Unique, dynamic, and above all, funny, Safety Not Guaranteed is a strong first film for Colin Trevorrow who has demonstrated that he’s able to balance a less-than-ambitious story with an unstoppable amusing cast of characters to make a fine piece of indie film. Currently, on Netflix in most regions, Safety Not Guaranteed guarantees a good laugh and a satisfying, if short, indie adventure.