Thursday, June 14

Safety Not Guaranteed Review

Safety Not Guaranteed
Dir: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass,
Jake M. Johnson, and Karen Soni

So, Safety Not Guaranteed is a comedy blended with aspects of science fiction, specifically time travel, which surrounds of group of impassioned characters that are each trudging through the perplexing parts of age with varying degrees of success. Though it sounds like a familiar premise in some regards it’s also much more; when a science fiction film journeys to the extent of hiring a time travel consultant as narrative support staff you can guarantee that something interesting will abound.

A peculiar classified ad is the starting point of the story. An independent Seattle newspaper discovers an advertisement that is looking for someone willing to travel back in time. Though this comes with the caution of bringing your own weapons and, plainly enough, not guaranteeing safe return. Interesting? It get’s better.

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a lonely yet sarcastic intern at the newspaper who is tasked by Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), an egotistical but sincere writer, to correspond with him and another intern named Arnau (Karan Soni) to Oceanview, Washington to find and interview the author of the time travel ad.

Sure, parts of this sound contrived and familiar, but these three characters interact within the script, and with each other, with interesting charisma. Darius is a loner lost within a world that she feels hasn’t offered much for her life thus far. Jeff is a slacker clinging onto a past littered with regret and hallow joys. Arnau is a nerd trying to offer some semblance of variety to a life that is otherwise inexperienced on numerous fronts.

The group finds the author of the ad easily; a middle-aged, oddball grocery clerk named Kenneth, who is a mystery and initially portrayed as a crazed conspiracy theorist looking to uncover the truth behind a cover-up. Jeff, being too consumed with searching for a past girlfriend, disregards Kenneth from the start. Arnau focuses on research, looking for facts about Kenneth’s identity. Darius, however, approaches Kenneth directly with staggering confidence, offering him the opportunity to explain his unusual proposition.

Up to this point the film resembles a typical road trip film; with the crew offering clever, humorous scenarios and quips with each other while the viewer establishes an individual relationship with them. Once Kenneth is introduced the tone of the film changes; the momentum gained with comedic aspects, and the connection of the supporting cast, is stalled slightly by the transition to focus on the blossoming bond with Darius and Kenneth. Though this doesn’t hurt the film, because the relationship angle is also interesting, it is a noticeable shift that loses, for a moment, the great introductory cast.

 Aubrey Plaza is magnetic as Darius; she composes her character with precise amounts of awkwardness and realism. Mark Duplass offers subtleness with his performance; he is at moments mysterious and off kilter and other times heartfelt and tender. In a great scene, Kenneth sings a simple, yet beautiful ballad that allows insight into his complexities. Jake M. Johnson has a difficult task as Jeff; much of his humor is a mask for underlying issues with his past and, as it sometimes is, revisiting the past is not always as expected. But, his natural performance makes his transformation seamless; in particular a late night go-cart scene is especially sensitive. In an unexpected narrative structure each of the characters seems to embody an aspect of adulthood and aging that is familiar. Those awkward, confused, emotional, and enlightening aspects of life are reflected in some way with each character.

Although the film leaves a little open for personal interpretation, which could upset some viewers, it honestly works better as a film to avoid overly concise explanations. There is some questionable cinematography and editing designs, but these technical flaws shouldn’t be obvious to most. Safety Not Guaranteed is a passionate and inventive film, which sidesteps the trappings that most time travel films stumble into and instead focuses on strikingly heartfelt characters and relationships.

Monte’s Rating
4.25 out of 5.00

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