It isn’t every day that you stumble across a film that convincing straddles two genres (and, no, I’m not talking about how a ‘thriller’ can also be a ‘drama,’ people!). In fact, I’d say that it’s very rare for there to be a motion picture that, successfully, combines traditional elements of the romantic comedy and science fiction. However, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED posits a small corner of a much larger world where time travel may indeed be possible, and the man who has the smarts to make it happen is little more than a grocery store clerk with the ability to think and dream big. That, and the guy knows how to write a great classified ad!
(NOTE: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of characters and plot. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to my last paragraph for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Darius (played with lovingly droll conviction by Aubrey Plaza) is an intern struggling to make ends meet financially in her job at a Seattle-based magazine. One of the writers, Jeff (Jake Johnson), stumbles across a curious personals ad – one that promises a trip through time – that his boss believes might have the makings of a great feature article, so Darius and Arnau (Karan Soni) agree to accompany him on the business trip to investigate Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the ad’s author. As it turns out, Darius slowly becomes smitten with her once-elusive subject, and, when it appears that Ken is actually being tailed by government agents, she’s forced to consider the unthinkable: could his ability to travel through time be real?
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is one of those films that probably played somewhere theatrically, but I never saw it. I don’t think I even saw it advertised! And that’s a shame when pure dreck along the lines of TRANSFORMERS 3 played simultaneously on something like a jillion screens. The fact that no one really invested in substantial dollars in marketing it is another tragedy in itself, especially given the fact that it’s been nominated for several independent spirit awards and won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at 2012’s Sundance Festival. (Yes, I know award nominations and wins aren’t always indicative of audience appreciation, but multiple nominations is usually a good thing, no?)
Director Colin Trevorrow keeps screenwriter Derek Connolly’s script moving in all the right directions as he put his players to their marks. There are several stories at work beneath the main plot – are Kenneth and Darius star-crossed lovers who don’t know it yet? – and I’d be remiss in not mentioning how well they all gel together in the mix:
(A) Initially, Jeff took the writing assignment because he learned a really hot girl from his high school days might be available for a new hook-up; little did he know what was in store for him. (B) Arnau is making his way peacefully through life, never doing anything the remotely resembles recklessness; little did he know what was in store for him. (C) Kenneth seeks to go back in time in order to correct something grievous from his past, a fix that might lead him to newfound love; little did he know what was in store for him. It’s this charming intersection of all these players on their respective journeys that kinda/sorta taps into enough comic but emotional energy. The talent is perfectly cast in roles that, while they may not be perfect, require only finding and hitting the right notes. Still, there are plenty of surprises and just enough twists and turns to make SAFETY into something special in all the right ways. Under director Trevorrow’s watchful eye, this talented ensemble makes the best of some quirky moments, ultimately proving that – with even the help of science – true love prevails.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is produced by Big Beach Films and Duplass Brothers Productions. As for the technical specifications, the image and sound quality are exceptional. Sadly, the disc has no special features – shame on you, filmmakers! Shame on you!!! This smaller sci-fi romance is exactly the kind of film that deserves a few glances behind-the-scenes.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. I don’t normally like romantic comedies (so sue me!), but nearly all of SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED worked just fine. (Of course, the picture has a wonderful undercurrent of contemporary quirkiness and science fiction which didn’t hurt it at all.) Aubrey Plaza is nothing short of a delight as a romantic lead; Jake Johnson is winning as the journalist/yuppie who self-destructs the nearer he gets toward authentic emotional connections; Karan Soni squeezes some wonderfully sublime moments out of his minimal screen time as a lovestruck intern; and Mark Duplass as the would-be/could-be time traveler manages to create just enough manic intensity for an audience to believe he just might know what he’s talking about … or not.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED Written by Derek Connolly Directed by Colin Trevorrow Starring Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, Karan Soni and Mark Duplass Darius: There’s no sense in nonsense, especially when the heat’s hot. Whether you’re spending your time running away from it or whether you’re constantly obsessing over every tiny detail from it, the past inevitably leaves its mark on everyone. Of course, there are also those who take it all one step further … more