Safety Not Guaranteed
Posted June 13, 2012 by Daniel Hodgson in
Darius is in a funk. She talks in a downbeat monotone, and has been that way since her mother died when she was 14. Now a college grad interning at a Seattle based magazine, she may get the chance to go back and change that fateful day.
Jeff, a staff reporter, spots a newspaper ad asking for “someone to go back in time with.” Thinking he can get a humorous article making fun of a local nutcase out of it, he asks his editor if he can take Darius and Arnau, another intern, along with him. The trio set out for Ocean View, where the ad was published.
Darius tracks down Kenneth, the man who submitted the strange ad. Jeff blows the interview (possibly on purpose), and leaves it to Darius to research Kenneth under the guise of taking a sincere interest in his time travel adventure. But Darius begins to wonder if Kenneth really may have created a time machine, and the pair are without a doubt kindred spirits.
The theatrical poster is meant to intrigue without giving away much, though the trailer gives a much better feel for what the film really is. While it does have science fiction elements, Safety Not Guaranteed is much more quirky comedy than anything else. It has the warmth, humor and intelligence that make for a good date movie, appealing to both men and women, but without the gushing sentimentality that is typical of mainstream rom-coms. As a guy, this is the kind of date movie I actually like seeing.
It isn’t without its flaws, though. While Darius connects with Kenneth, Jeff pursues an old flame. There’s a couple of problems with this. The movie is about Darius and Kenneth, and yet it’s spending too much time on a subplot about a side character. As a self-contained love story, it doesn’t work. Again, love stories aren’t about having characters fall in love; they’re about us falling in love with the characters. But we don’t love Jeff, we don’t even like him—we’re not supposed to, as he’s meant to be a foil, his insincerity and superficiality contrasting with Darius’s earnestness. It does not pay off, does not advance the main story, and could be cut without notice. Even Arnau gets a subplot and dating montage that just doesn’t reward given how little investment there is in him. Safety Not Guaranteed takes its eye off the ball, and its subplots feel like filler.
Still, these are minor detractions in an otherwise likable movie. There’s several funny moments, like when Kenneth sneaks into a science lab to steal parts for his time machine, and… well, see for yourself. There’s also clever dialog, like when Kenneth asks Darius if she’s ever faced certain death, and she replies, “If it were so certain, I wouldn’t be here, would I?” and then with a deadpan expression goes about an oddly funny stage business (the trailer gives it away, but doesn’t deliver the context). Plaza is quite watchable, turning her character’s pathos into comedy, and delivers a kind of subtext, that Darius has feelings that she herself is not aware of.
I should mention that MPAA gave Safety Not Guaranteed an “R” rating, though it doesn’t show sex, nudity, or violence, and the language is overall tame–it often uses substitutes for genuine obscenities. It’s a classy script, and should have gotten a PG-13.
Starring Aubrey Plaza (Darius Britt), Jake M. Johnson (Jeff Schwensen), Karan Soni (Arnau), Krisen Bell (Belinda) and Mark Duplass (Kenneth Calloway).