It’s a rare occurrence when several genres are able to completely blend together. Director Colin Trevorrow‘s Safety Not Guaranteed is a science fiction film, but it’s also a romantic drama, with shades of comedy. It’s an independent film that’s mostly charming and innocent, with occasional flaws, but it’s mostly a rewarding character interaction between its two leads, played by Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass.
Lonely twenty-something Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a drifter. She’s got a good job and a loving dad, but she’s mostly sad and she just goes through her day-to-day life, hoping something makes her life a little better. She works with a jackass named Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) and a geeky Indian kid named Arnau (Karan Soni). The magazine that she works for is out of stories, so Jeff proposes the idea that he and two interns follows a story based on a classifieds post about a man looking for someone to travel back in time with. This man has claimed to have time traveled before and all he asks is that anyone that is interested must bring their own weapons.
Darius, Jeff and Arnau venture to the time traveler’s (Kenneth, played by Mark Duplass) home and begin their investigation. Is this guy completely nuts or does he somehow have the ability to time travel into the past?
Aubrey Plaza breaks out in the film as Darius. She really paints a clear picture of the character, allowing us to witness her happiness and hopefulness as it builds and builds. Finally, for the first time since her childhood Darius has found someone that she doesn’t end up hating or feeling disappointed towards. The relationship between Darius and Kenneth feels very organic and that’s mostly because of the chemistry between Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass and because both performers are perfectly cast for their characters.
Mark Duplass‘ Kenneth is mostly that weird neighbor you had down the street that swore time travel was real, but he’s also got a hidden side that’s slowly revealed as Darius connects with him. The two share troubled pasts and the more they let each other in the more their pasts are revealed. Kenneth’s past is a little stranger, but as equally heartbreaking as Darius’.
Plaza does a good job balancing out her occasionally quirky sense of humor with a more serious and straight-forward approach. Darius is quick on her feet and very funny, but she’s also a growing woman full of mistakes from the past and a small glimpse of hope for a brighter future. Plaza expresses that in both her dialogue and general posture and placement in any given scene. She has a specific trait for making whatever scene she’s in come to life. Things just seem funnier or worth paying attention to whenever Plaza is there.
The direction and writing must also get nods, because both Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly keep Safety Not Guaranteed from falling into genre molds. It never fully becomes a sci-fi film or a romance or a drama, it dabbles into each respectful genre, but it never surrenders itself to one or the other.
Trevorrow keeps things tight, which benefits heavily from Connolly’s open script that fuses the comedy and drama so well. The two work perfectly here, never underselling each other.
Safety Not Guaranteed is the kind of film that sweeps the independent festival circuit by storm and then gets picked up by a few bigger theater chains for a week or two, only to be eventually forgotten. It’s a harmless film overall, but that doesn’t mean it’s flawless.
There are several moments in the story that poke at a big problem with the film and that’s the precision of Kenneth’s character. He’s presented in the film mostly as a secretive and precise man, yet minutes after he’s done meeting with Darius her two partners show up. Kenneth is one to study every single person so carefully and yet he never notices any of the dozen times when Darius is seen in public with Jeff and Arnau? He also doesn’t piece together the fact that he sees both Jeff and Darius driving the same vehicle.
It’s an observation that I made pretty quickly and couldn’t seem to shake, despite really enjoying what I was watching.
Safety Not Guaranteed isn’t a flawless movie, but it has a lot of natural charm and a general sweet nature that will win you over. It’s not something I could watch over and over, but I’m glad that I got a chance to view it. The performances are the films true strength, with its direction and writing coming in a close second. Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass are shining examples of the ever growing independent scene that keeps pumping out quality work. I didn’t fall in love with Safety Not Guaranteed, but I really enjoyed it for its truth and honesty.
Safety Not Guaranteed – 8/10