I had not heard anything about Safety Not Guaranteed before stumbling upon it in the theatre listings. It got great ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, and I love discovering indie-movie gems (especially when they have a sci-fi twist). When the following ad appears in the local classifieds, some writers from Seattle Magazine are intrigued enough to find out about the man behind it.
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. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.
Aubrey Plaza (who has mastered her great Parks and Recreation persona as a moody, surly post-teen) plays Darius, one of the two interns assigned to drive down the coast with lead writer Jeff (played by Jake Johnson of TV’s The New Girl) to investigate. Hijinks ensue (along with a nice training montage filmed against the beautiful, Pacific coast backdrop) as Darius and the others try to determine if this guy is for real (or at least why he thinks he can travel in time). Meanwhile, Jeff’s sleazy ulterior motive for this trip is to hook up with an old flame. Darius’s off-beat personality actually helps her make inroads into gaining the trust of Kenneth, the man behind the ad (played by Mark Duplass) and they start to connect on an emotional level. Plaza again brings a hilariously dry delivery to her lines that is pitch-perfect. You know Darius is kind of role-playing but you catch glimpses of where she’s accidentally exposed her true self in the process.
Things start to get complicated all around when Kenneth takes his mission to the next level (actual agents seem to be following him); Jeff the womanizer starts to fall for his old girlfriend; and things get close for Darius and Kenneth. At the heart, this is like many other indie movies about people finding each other through sharing their feelings and life experiences. There’s a lot of gentle humour in Kenneth and how he takes his plan and mission seriously (I’ve known people who are like this) and the movie doesn’t judge him. In fact, quite the opposite. His focused oddness is almost charming and inspirational. While I could relate with some of the nerdier aspects of the movie, and felt lifted by its universal themes, the sci-fi seemed little more than a gimmick. That part was a bit of a letdown. However, I guess I can’t fault filmmakers for adding the very thing that got me into the theatre to begin with (4 out of 5).