Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass, "Safety Not Guaranteed"

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

These days, it seems the faster we hurtle forward, the more severe the whiplash if we chance to glance backward. If we could not only look back, but get back, there may be some do-overs that we wouldn’t need to carry out … because we did it right the first time.

Playing on the concept of wishful reconfiguring, filmmakers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly of Safety Not Guaranteed used a 1997 classified ad from Oregon’s Backwoods Home Magazine to inspire them: “WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke … You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” It turns out that the ad wasn’t generated by some crackpot, but by the magazine’s senior editor John Silveira, whose publisher asked him to write a few fillers “when the classified ad pages came up short.” (Imagine that problem happening today, given the easy bits and bytes of virtual formatting.)

But like an old yellow Datsun speeding away from suspicious G-men … I’m getting ahead of myself.

The place and time is Seattle, circa now. Glossy, hip Seattle Magazine is always in search of a good story, one that will allow its writers to take a few potshots at the expense of the subject matter. And the opportunity to make fun of this silly time travel want ad is too good to pass up. Cocky reporter Jeff (Jake Johnson) volunteers to investigate, and snatches up two unpaid interns (Aubrey Plaza’s Darius and Karan Soni’s Arnau) to accompany him. They hit the road in search of the ad’s mysterious post office box located in Ocean View, WA, and quickly find Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a slightly erratic grocery store clerk who seems 100% committed to his secret project. The fact that government agents are on his tail makes the journalists rethink the frivolity of the situation.

(l to r) Aubrey Plaza, Karan Soni, Jake Johnson

These three writers are all unhappy: the cynical Jeff is loveless, Arnau is permanently confused by modern society, and disaffected Darius feels out of step, all the time. But when she’s asked to spy on the unstable Kenneth, she finally has a job to do – and finds that she does it quite well. The fact that she bonds with him, twisting this sci-fi spy romp into a kind of romance, gives the film an off-kilter kick that works.

We’ve seen many movies where the nut case is touched with a kind of brilliance, working far outside of the societal norm. What makes Safety Not Guaranteed a winner (speaking of which, it won Sundance 2012′s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award), is that it addresses the current generation of maturing adults, in their late ’20s-early ’30s, who haven’t a clue as to where their happiness lies. They have no job security, not enough (or too much) schooling, hookups that have no permanence … there’s an underlying sadness to all four of these characters that resonates, despite the story zipping forward with its sillier intentions.

Though strong work is turned in by all the leads, Aubrey Plaza is superb, delivering a character who’s so brutally authentic in her look and attitude, she strikes an eerily familiar chord. Don’t we know her? Didn’t we work with her at some time or another? Isn’t she someone’s relative? The ability to convey that kind of blunt reality, so rare in a twentysomething actress, makes the character’s internal sorrow all the more palpable.

Safety Not Guaranteed is by no means a brilliant film. However, given the loopy ride, fueled by a great splash of optimism, while you can’t be assured of your safety … you might as well fasten your seat belt.

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Rating on a scale of 5 Marty McFlys: 4

Release date: June 8, 2012 (ltd.)
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Screenplay by: Derek Connolly
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere, Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin, Mary Lynn Rajskub
Rating: R
Running Time: 94 minutes

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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