Synopsis: Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.
Duplass? Plaza? Time travel? Indie comedy? Strap me in!
As a fan of both The League and Parks & Recreation I was beyond excited to see Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza (still one of my favourite names of the moment. Sounds like a Metro stop in Greenwich Village) together. Even more excited was I when the film in question was to be about a man seeking a companion to accompany him back in time for an unspecified mission.
The story is based on an actual wanted ad from a low circulation magazine in the late 90’s where an employee, needing to fill all the ad space and being one short, decided to put in an advert asking for someone to accompany him to go back in time. The only stipulation? You had to bring your own weapons. That man, John Silveria, should immediately be given all the points and win all the awards. Because that is genius.
In Safety Not Guaranteed the ad is played for real, posted by odd-ball, straightfaced, mulleted, 80’s sports car driving Kenneth (Mark Duplass). Forget going back in time; he looks like he never LEFT 1986. His ad is picked up as a potential story by douchebag indie magazine journalist Jeff (Jake Johnson) who sees it as a reason to visit the town his hot ex-girlfriend from twenty years ago still lives in. Along with him to do all the work are his interns; Arnau (Karin Soni) and Darius (Aubrey Plaza). At first glance Kenneth seems like a nutjob and trusts no-one. Sensing this Plaza poses as a girl answering his ad, wanting to go back in time with him. But first she must prove herself a worthy companion and pass Kenneth’s many physical and mental tests.
Where it really excels in it’s storytelling is not allowing itself to get caught up in the science of time-travel. It is a convoluted and complicated science that the more you try and explain in narrative, the more you’ll muddy the waters. In fact, much like Back To The Future, Safety Not Guaranteed is not really about time travel. Rather it is a movie about a simple yearning we’ve all experienced at some time; that desire to re-capture or correct a moment in time we’ll never have again. For Kenneth it is to literally travel back in time to save a girl he loved. For Darius it is an opportunity to right a wrong she’ll otherwise never have a chance to. For Jeff it is through visiting his high watermark sexual encounter, trying to recapture the spark they had, and learning lessons about enjoying your youth while you have it.
Plaza and Duplass are perfect indie comedy stars. Neither are catwalk pretty, both feel like real, every day people. Anyone who has seen Plaza in Parks & Recreation as the ever pissy, sarcastic intern April Ludgate, will know how well she does straight comedy. That ability to perfectly look straight through someone and seem underwhelmed at everything regardless of it’s unbridled awesomeness. It gives her a sense of innocence and also a sense of someone who is less a sceptic, rather someone who wants to the World to amaze her. It just hasn’t yet. Her big brown eyes and wide smile compliment Kenneth’s furrowed brow and perpetual serious expression. I felt like I was watching two people fall in love on screen and learn things about each other and themselves. It was a refreshing and all to rare experience from “romantic comedy”.
I won’t say a lick about the ending. All I’ll say is that however you think it might end, it ends perfectly.
Conclusion: This was the third film I have seen in little over a week that shared similar traits; all under 90 mins, all indie to the core, all different ways of exploring two people finding their obscure soulmates in strange circumstances. Safety Not Guaranteed is head and shoulders above the rest. The closest our generation will get to their own Back To The Future. I will go back and watch this over and over and over again.
Verdict: 9/10 – Go see this immediately
Director: Colin Trevorrow – Feature début for Trevorrow. Most interestingly he has been picked as the man to re-invigorate the Jurassic Park franchise in 2014. Be interesting to see if he brings some indie sensibility to it.
Writer: Derek Connolly – Only credit other than a TV movie he wrote in 2005, Gary: In Crisis, which was directed by Trevorrow. Nothing listed as in the pipeline. Can’t imagine he’ll struggle for work after this.
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni, Mary Lynn Rajskub
- The original classified ad upon which the film is based first appeared in Backwoods Home Magazine in 1997. It was written as last-minute filler by John Silveira, an employee of the magazine, who is credited in the film as “Time Travel Consultant” and also has a cameo. The ad was later featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in the “Headlines” segment, and eventually turned into an Internet meme before being developed into a screenplay.
- The part of Darius was written for Aubrey Plaza, because writer Derek Connolly wanted to work with her. Jake Johnson was likewise director Colin Trevorrow‘s first choice for the part of Jeff.
- Darius was given a black man’s name as part of background story about her family that didn’t make the final cut. During the dinner scene with her dad, there was a third actor, a young black man, that had to be digitally removed at post-production since without the background story, his presence there made no sense.