Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Derek Connolly
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni
Country: United States
MPAA Rating: R
Time: 86 minutes
USA Release: 6/8/2012 (Limited)
On DVD (USA): 10/30/2012
Inspired by a 1997 Backwoods Home Magazine Classified ad, “Safety Not Guaranteed” with it’s fast and sharply witted story has struck multiple cords not only with critics but also with audiences that are able to see the film (it made it’s way to only 184 theaters). For me personally I have been dying to see this and without having the closest city to show it only be an hour away I would have had to wait until the DVD to see it. Thankfully I got to see it this past weekend with a small group of film lovers in my first real trip to an actual art house theater, and let me just say it was an awesome experience!
While at work one day at Seattle Magazine, intern Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) volunteers to go on assignment with writer Jeff Schwensen (Jake Johnson) and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni). Jeff’s idea is to investigate a newspaper classified ad that talked about someone looking for somebody to go back in time with him. As they head to the seaside community of Ocean View, Washington they have to find out who wrote the ad before they can find out if he is seriously nuts or actually able to do this. After they find out that Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass) was the one who wrote the ad, it’s now time for one of them to become his new partner to go “back in time”, and after a bad first meeting by the hands of Jeff, it’s now left to Darius to convince Kenneth she is for real. But as they find out more about Kenneth, the team begins to realize that he might not be as crazy as they thought he was.
As I said before this was my first trip to an actual art house theater, some may ask why it took me so long and I can answer that with an easy response. Although my town has about seven theaters in a 25-30 mile radius it is rare to get any type of indie, foreign or documentary film to play unless it’s extremely popular and even that isn’t always a guarantee. So you can see since we don’t get those kind of films all the time there is no purpose of having an art house theater, no matter how much better it would be. Instead I have to travel about 50 miles just to get to a theater that plays those types, and I have to say that may be a better option. Because of that drive and being in a smaller theater, that means I was among people who actually wanted to be there instead of people bored or trying to escape the heat and ultimately being disappointed by the film because it wasn’t what they expected.
Sorry for that little rant, getting back on track about the film, “Safety Not Guaranteed” delivered much more than I had even hoped for, it delivered a compelling story with subtle complexities and wit. From beginning to end I was caught up in everything, wondering were it was going to take us next. It doesn’t just give you a story about finding some weirdo who wants somebody to go back in time with him, no that’s just it’s premise the thing that leads them there. What it really is trying to tell us is about life, sometimes we just need to go outside our comfort zone and try something new, and other times we need to look past our initial expectations and focus on the real connection (if there is one). For feature film debut writer Derek Connolly, this story could have turned out in a completely different overall clichéd and predictable fashion since it has to do with idea time travel, luckily like I just got done saying he doesn’t focus on that fact, he gives us instead a story filled with much more than science fiction.
Like with Connolly this is also director Colin Trevorrow’s feature film debut, the two have previously worked together on 2005’s “Gary: Under Crisis”. And although I have not seen any of their previous work together or separately they have both made a lasting impression with me on this film. Trevorrow’s directing lightly follows what you expect from an indie film such as this, it is beautifully filmed on location and incorporates the area well using the beaches and woods as prime locations. With a comedy about time travel you expect a lot of gags that poke fun at the premise but what is surprising not only about the filming but the writing is that you can feel that heart and passion put into this project. Everything moves so well and so quickly that there is nothing to slow it down (it helps that the film is only 86 minutes long), it’s like a river connecting to the ocean, seamlessly and efficiently. And within that effortless movement of a story are characters worth caring about. They are structured very much on reality with sarcastic wit, laziness and shyness that never seems rehearsed or falsely based. They are complex and have dimensions which something that you don’t always get to see in a film. And they don’t demand presence especially with the comedy in the story, they use it no matter what they outcome might be with the audience.
Another thing that helps with that flowing is the bouncy and adventurous score by Ryan Miller. Even in the trailer, the music is just infectious lifting your spirits high, like maybe time travel is possible and even if it’s not the ride to finding that out is worthwhile. Miller score starts off simple with just a couple of instruments but continues to grow into more complicated selections as the movie progresses. The soundtrack also features a few songs unfortunately by artists that I’m unfamiliar with at this point but like the score it continues with that infectious rhythm of curiosity and adventure.
Having complex characters along with fantastic actors to fill those shoes is something special in itself as it doesn’t always happen. Most of the time you only get one or the other, but it’s great to see that “Safety Not Guaranteed” was able to accomplish both. Like with most indie films the cast is made up of a small group with almost cameo like roles for the rest of the cast. Although the film gets some incredible actors and actresses to have these small roles they may get over looked in a review. But I’ll just say that it was a joy to see Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin and Mary Lynn Rajskub, over the years I have seen them do great work through television and film, and it was a nice little surprise to see them show up in this.
The main cast you may or may not recognise, they all seemed to have flown somewhat under the radar for the past few years, finally emerging within the past couple of years. Karan Soni, may be the one of the main cast that I’m least familiar with, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying his humor towards his character’s shyness and nervousness when asked to step up and change his ways. He may not have had a huge role in this but all the scenes he was in were memorable, I can’t wait to see what he does next. Until this year Jake Johnson was for a better word pretty unknown. He landed the new FOX show “New Girl” bringing him into a whole new crowd including myself. The dry humor and sarcasticness that he bring to that show is seen in here as well. He show more confidence in his character in the film, but with that confidence is an underlining reluctance towards the secret reasoning behind the trip even though it’s kind of what he wanted. I enjoyed Johnson in this film and also on “New Girl” and can’t wait to see him get more interesting roles with more range.
As much as I see it being a tie between Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass as to who’s film this is, Duplass is probably the right answer for more reasons then the obvious ones. Duplass who is really making his presence known not only with the success of his directing and writing (“Cyrus” and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home“) but with his acting as well appearing or starring in multiply films this year. I actually just saw him in another film about a week ago, “Your Sister’s Sister” and even though I though he was ok in that role, he completely blew me away in this film. This time he really take that shaggy look to the extreme growing his hair out into a look circa the 1980’s. Duplass seems to give this role his all, by diving very deep into the paranoia that the character goes though. And like in “Your Sister’s Sister” he shows that beneath his weird exterior there is a sensitive guy just looking to fix something from the past.
As for Aubrey Plaza who is know for her role on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”, has been climbing to a starring role in my opinion ever since I saw her in “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” back in 2010. Yes, I know her role in that is relatively small but I though she stole every scene she was in with her angry sarcastic humor, I swear in that role she could kill someone just by screaming at them. Anyways Plaza’s role in this is of the same type, moody, misunderstood but a college grad, she continues to use her sarcastic dry humor which works for her but one day could typecast her and I hope that doesn’t happen. I thought she was fantastic as a lead and delivers some of the best lines. She shows she has plenty of range, which should take her far in her career, and also had marvelous chemistry with Duplass. Plaza if she hasn’t already will emerge as this years break out star, and if she doesn’t well, then people are missing out.
To sum up “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a complete blast, with it’s inventive and continuously moving story. While in the end they may or may not actually travel in time, that doesn’t matter, what does is the changes these characters all went though, for the better. The story could have fallen victim to the clichés of the time travel format, but it steers clear of it by it’s deeper meanings and fantastic cast. This is a film that one day I could see becoming a classic, and even though a few weeks ago I said differently, “Safety Not Guaranteed” has become my pick for best film so far this year, sorry “Moonrise Kingdom“.