“Safety Not Guaranteed”
“Wanted: Someone 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. I have only done this once before. Safety Not Guaranteed.”
It's not surprising that an intrepid screenwriter would find film-worthy inspiration in the strange words of this real-life, though author-contrived, personal ad from the 1990s. But film fans who resist the urge to automatically dismiss the “Safety Not Guaranteed” as a quirky-for-the-sake-of-quirkiness hipster comedy will be pleasantly surprised at the indie's refreshing originality and unexpected resonance.
One of my favorite films of the year, Colin Trevorrow's feature directorial debut is an impressively self-assured tale that deftly merges elements of romantic comedies, coming-of-age dramas and science-fiction thrillers. Derek Connolly won the screenwriting award at the Sundance Film Festival for his first feature, and he deserved it not only for crafting multidimensional characters and sharp dialogue but also for avoiding the indie film fallbacks of snark and self-parody.
Established supporting player Aubrey Plaza (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” TV's “Parks and Recreation”) expands on her deadpan persona in her first lead role as twenty-something slacker Darius, who has been in a perpetual funk since her teen years, when her mother died. She lives with her dad (Jeff Garlin), works as an intern at an unremarkable Seattle magazine and lives by the motto “expect the worst and try not to get my hopes up.”
When smarmy staff writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) suggests writing a feature about a rural Washington denizen who placed a personal ad seeking a time-traveling companion, Darius and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni), a socially awkward gamer, are assigned to go along. When the trio arrive in the coastal town of Ocean View, it becomes clear that Jeff is less interested in writing the story than in reuniting with his former flame Liz (Jenica Bergere).
So, Darius makes contact with the would-be time traveler, Kenneth (actor/producer Mark Duplass, “Your Sister's Sister”), who not surprisingly is a paranoid oddball. Darius starts out humoring Kenneth's deadly serious firearms training and code-deciphering lessons, but the die-hard cynic is startled to find herself attracted to his sweet nature and sincere belief that he is capable of traveling back to 2001 on a mission driven by love and regret.
By the time Kenneth serenades her on the zither — Duplass shows some impressive pipes and musical chops performing the original “Big Machine,” penned by Guster's Ryan Miller — viewers will be ready to follow him anywhere, even if it takes a homemade laser-powered time machine to get there.
Bonus features: Two making-of featurettes, including a brief interview with John Silveira, the Backwoods Home Magazine staffer who wrote the real-life ad that inspired the movie.
— Brandy McDonnell