Entertainment :: Movies

Safety Not Guaranteed

by Kevin Taft
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Friday Jun 8, 2012
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Stills from "Safety Not Guaranteed"
Stills from "Safety Not Guaranteed"  

What would happen if you ran across a newspaper ad advertising for a time travel partner? Would you believe it? Think it was a joke? Would you consider the possibility that it might be for real? What if you were the person who placed the ad?

These are the questions raised in the inventive and insightful new indie comedy "Safety Not Guaranteed."

The dry and likable Aubrey Plaza (from "Parks and Rec" and "Funny People") stars as Darius, a young woman trying to get out from living with her dad while working at at an unpaid internship at Seattle Magazine. It is there that a cocky journalist named Jeff (Jake Johnson from "New Girl") proposes doing a story about an ad he ran across in the newspaper.

It states: "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. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."


A still from "Safety Not Guaranteed"  

When his boss Bridget (Mary Lynn Rajskub from "24") tells him to run with the story, he asks for two interns and gets Darius and Arnau (Karan Soni) - a socially awkward college student only doing the internship because it pads his resume.

The three soon leave for the small town of Oceanside, WA to find and check out the writer of the ad. When the bickering threesome arrive, they spot their target and Darius follows him to his job at a local grocery store where she gets his full name and address.

That guy is Kenneth (Mark Duplass) - an average Joe with an excitement for quantum physics; something his co-workers find weird. When Jeff approaches Kenneth to say that he wants to be his "travel" companion, Kenneth rejects him almost immediately. So instead, they send in Darius whose dry and intelligent wit end up charming Kenneth enough to take her under his wing. He wants to train her in order to see if she’s trustworthy.

As Darius gets to know Kenneth, Jeff is left alone with Arnau, whom he relentlessly teases. Jeff finally admits that he used to summer in Oceanside as a teenager and he had a fling with a girl named Liz (Jenica Bergere). He intends to look her up in order to get laid, but then rejects her because she doesn’t look exactly the same as in high school, (although she is gorgeous).


Stills from "Safety Not Guaranteed"  

Meanwhile, Jeff tries to school the hapless Arnau into how to score with women. The pair are the oddest of couples, but that’s what makes their dynamic so interesting. They come to help each other in interesting ways, and in doing so, learn honest truths that were refreshingly played on screen. It is these moments within the blatant comedy that make the film stand out.

The rest of the story is best left to discover on your own. Suffice to say Darius and Kenneth bond in ways that neither expected, that Darius’ sullen nature will be broken by facts she learns about Kenneth (and herself), that Jeff and Arnau both grow - maybe not in the ways that each would have liked -and the nature of Kenneth’s ad will be revealed... with a few twists.

It’s captivating and delightful stuff. The dialogue by screenwriter Derek Connolly is adroit and perceptive. He gives the characters layers that are enjoyable to watch unfold. As a result, every actor is superb, bringing their characters to life in original and unexpected ways. Even Bergere’s brief turn as the object of Jeff’s attention stands out. And look out for a quick scene with fanboy fave Kristen Bell.

It’s nice to see Plaza taking the lead here. While her overly dry style seems to be repeated in many of her performances, what’s nice is that this script allows her to show a range that sit-coms like "Parks and Rec" don’t always allow. She is a compelling screen performer and this showcases that nicely.

Director Colin Trevorrow keeps the low budget from looking that way, and gives the film a playful energy that is contagious. This being an indie film, I was worried that general audiences might not take to it, but in the radio station giveaway screening I attended, the audience was with it the whole time.

And that’s the success here. Give the audience a fun and compelling story; make us care about the characters, no matter how ridiculous they might seem; then keep us off-balance so we don’t know where it will go next. Those are the keys to good story telling and "Safety Not Guaranteed" does this very well. I promise you will leave the theatre with a smile on your face.


Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to ’Star Wars’ and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg. He can be seen in the flesh on the weekly PBS movie review series "Just Seen It."

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