It was decorated with independent film awards in 2012, including the Waldo Salt Screewriting Award from Sundance, the Overlooked Film of the Year from Phoenix Film Critics, the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay, and an ALMA Award to Aubrey Plaza for her dynamite performance as a Seattle-based magazine intern named Darius.
“Safety Not Guaranteed,” which is about a team of journalists who chase after a story from a classifieds ad seeking a partner to travel through time, is as ambitious as film’s come these days and it delivers. Its stars, including the award-winning Plaza, are each excellent in their own right.
Plaza plays Darius, a young intern who has a lot to say but is on the verge of losing any aspirations. Jake Johnson plays Jeff, a hilarious Escalade-owning journalist who battles with the limitations of his age. Mark Duplass plays Kenneth, the one who posted the classifieds ad.
The film is as creative as it is surprisingly heartfelt, as Darius’ interest in Kenneth grows from professional, to surprising, to friendly, to emotional. Plaza and Duplass are wonderful together, shining in one scene when Kenneth puts Darius through extensive gun training and another when Darius comforts Kenneth who is embarrassed about his fake ear.
Plaza alone carries this movie and earns her ALMA Award. She’s lightning in a bottle.
Johnson is excellent, carrying his character through a number of solo scenes. He’s supposed to be the serious journalist, but he uses the the team’s undercover trip as a vacation to hook up with one of his old main squeezes. He’s admirable, though, battling with the realization that he can’t do the same things he used to, so he finds solace in helping 21-year-old Arnau, played by Karan Soni, live it up while he still can (cough, cough, he gets him laid).
The screenwriter, Derek Connolly, openly plays with the idea that everyone thinks Kenneth is crazy for thinking he can time travel—although, he says he’s done it before—which is an important aspect of the film because the more truth that comes out about what is happening, the more invested we and the characters become in the whole idea.
Connolly is creative and inventive in his writing, especially for his first go-round. The movie establishes the clever item of a tin box, which would contain letters from the past if Kenneth or Darius gets hurt or something happens during their time traveling. Moreover, the script plays with the mystery behind two things: Kenneth’s reason for going back to 2001 and what’s in Kenneth’s garage. When we finally find out each, it’s quite miraculous. Really something.
Common sense tells us time traveling isn’t real, but the further into the movie we get the more we want it to be true—and the same is being felt by the characters; in fact, they realize Kenneth may have some chops when they realize he’s actually being followed by governmental employees. Following their realization, Kenneth in one car, agents in another, and Jeff, Darius and Arnau in another, we get a hilarious and ironic 15-miles-per-hour car chase.
“Safety Not Guaranteed” is quite incredible, whether we’re talking about the actors, writing or the idea. It’s the kind of film that’s few and far between the usual crap that hits theaters these days and serves as a reminder that independent films can really entertain and push the envelope. “Safety Not Guaranteed” does it right, at least reminding us to keep our eyes open because you never know when you’ll stumble upon the chance of a lifetime in the classifieds.
“Safety Not Guaranteed”: ★★★1/2