Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

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An intern at a magazine helps write an article about a man who placed an advertisement claiming to be able to travel through time.

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Colin Trevorrow, 2012

Sarcastic and lonely magazine intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) finds it difficult to connect with people. Stuck living with her father thanks to her lack of money, Darius is stuck in a rut. When reporter Jeff (Jake Johnson) discovers an advertisement in a newspaper placed by a man looking for someone to travel through time with him (“must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed”), Darius volunteers to assist Jeff in his investigation. Jeff is actually only invested in going on vacation and meeting up with an old flame, leaving interns Darius and Arnau (Karan Soni) to do all the work on the article. Once Darius meets wannabe time traveller Kenneth (Mark Duplass), however, she gets caught up in his intense eccentricity. Despite the fact that everyone believes him to be delusional, Darius finds herself falling for Kenneth as they train together for time travel.

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So after my disappointment with Jurassic World, I felt it was important for me to see this little indie movie that Colin Trevorrow helmed that gave him the keys to two freakin’ huge franchises in Jurassic World and Star Wars. And I…don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, Safety Not Guaranteed is a fine movie. It’s cute and quirky, a story competently told. It relies heavily on the comedy stylings of its leads to add charisma and appeal – Plaza, Johnson, and Duplass are all playing versions of characters we’ve all seen them as before – but Trevorrow lets the cast run with it, which leads to genuine moments of connection and humour, even if it isn’t always a laugh-out-loud funny film. The concept of time travel is really an afterthought for the film, which is really about loneliness and finding unlikely friendships and connections with people. In addition to Darius and Kenneth’s quirky love story, the bromance subplot between dudebro Jeff and nerdy Arnau is surprisingly sweet.

However, the film has some definite pacing issues. It takes a long time to hit its stride, with the characters more like caricatures for the first half of the film. It has some abrupt tonal shifts that are awkward. There’s also that indie dependence on magical realism to handwave away plot holes and logical inconsistencies. It feels very much like a freshman effort from a filmmaker, with some wrinkles that could use ironing out through experience. Fortunately, Aubrey Plaza is grounding enough in the lead doing her snarky, disaffected millennial thing that these problems can be overlooked. She pitches her performance very effectively, so that her rare moments of vulnerability and happiness are emotionally affecting. Mark Duplass is less effective – his slightly unhinged weirdo act is fine, but he’s less convincing in the moments when we need to connect with Kenneth the most. Jake Johnson’s Jeff has the most interesting character arc, beginning as a seemingly antagonistic pain in the ass, but given moments of genuine growth. There are some insightful moments to be found in this film, and it’s a fun watch.

Safety Not Guaranteed on IMDb

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