First things first. I don't review every movie I see--that'd be crazy, you guys--but I do make an effort to review the movies I feel are important to talk about. But when you rent a movie to watch with your friends over the weekend and end up watching it again the next day and then can't stop thinking about it for the proceeding couple of days, yeah, I think it's worth sharing.
Safety Not Guaranteed is that rare indie/comedy that I believe manages to please most people. It has an off-beat charm and equally charming off-beat characters that make us laugh and want to be in their circle of company. It surprises by having a genuine feel to it and a heart that I can't say I find in a lot of films these days. And did I mention the time-traveling thing? But at the center of the film, there's nothing science fiction about it.
When a Seattle journalist (Jake Johnson) takes on a story about a man who puts up an ad seeking a time travel partner, he entails the help of two interns, "I'll take the Indian and the lesbian," he says, played by Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Rec) and Karan Soni. They drive out to an ocean side motel, expecting to find a schizophrenic-type mad man and instead find Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a seemingly normal guy, working at Bargain Outlet who believes he can time travel. Darius (Plaza) takes up Kenneth's offer and a few quirky verbal exchanges and strategic canned soup placement and Kenneth senses Darius worthy of partnership. However the deadline for the story quickly approaches and Darius is no closer to discovering what the man she's been spending so much time with is hiding.
The film works because it's well casted. Plaza and Duplass work amazing well together. He adds charm and yet harbors an austere, yet thoughtful side that gives his character so much dimension, you'd think he was playing a real person. And Plaza's trademark deadpan is only part of the fun in watching her. The rest relies on seeing her be unguarded for the first time. There's a scene, early on, where she's having dinner with her father (Jeff Garlin) and as funny as she is, you know there's a no-nonsense side we're going to see from her. My favorite character, however, was Johnson's Jeff, a womanizing magazine writer who drinks on the job and has more interest in reestablishing a connection with his high school sweet heart than getting the story. Jeff is crude, unprofessional, and unreliable, but his storyline is so crucial and his character is so likable you can't help but feel empathetic when he's upset. My most memorable scene from the film is when Jeff takes his shy intern to meet girls and they spend an evening at a fair. It sounds fun and comical, but Jeff's drunken stupor and childish behavior, all to the tune of Wye Oak's Civilian, make this scene more sobering and powerful than I expected it to.
The film marks writer Derek Connolly's first feature film--and what a debut! I look forward to his future projects. Connolly re-teamed with director Colin Trevorrow; the two previously worked on the TV movie Gary: Under Crisis and Safety marks Trevorrow's first feature film, as well. Duplass also teamed up with frequent collaborator and brother Jay to executive produce the film. My only complaint was the decision to shoot this digitally, which made for some unpleasant exposure issues, but when you're working with a budget of less an $1 million, forgiveness comes easy.
Sometimes you spend an entire year looking forward to films from favorite directors like David O'Russell, Quentin Tarantino, Ben Affleck (hey, I didn't say favorite actor), Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton and Paul Thomas Anderson, you don't expect anything from a movie like this, which makes it all the more surprising and unforgettable when you do experience it (no weapons necessary, promise). I can't guarantee you'll love it, but I can guarantee I'll love it just as much the next time I watch it.
I also just wanted to thank Eric over at PMI (don't know him, just a big fan) for loving movies just as much as I do and for convincing me I couldn't wait any longer to see this film. Thanks Eric (even though you'll never read this.) And I want to thank anyone reading this for indulging me in what I love to do, even if you hate what I have to say. Thanks sooooooo much anyway.