When a Seattle magazine journalist, Jeff (Jake Johnson, New Girl) spots an ad in the classifieds that reads “WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me…Must bring own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” he thinks he can turn it into a human interest story. He takes along two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni) who have their own reasons for wanting to take the assignment, to the small town of Ocean View to investigate the man who claims to have found a way to time travel. Mumblecore pioneer, Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Baghead) plays Kenneth, the supermarket clerk seeking a companion for time travel. While Jeff is more concerned with hooking up with his high-school sweetheart, Darius and Arnau are left to surveil Kenneth, with Darius opting to go undercover.
Made on a small budget, with recognisable, though indie-ish actors, this film is about love and regret, posing the characters and audience with the questions- what personal mistake would you go back and change if you could? A debut film for director Colin Trevorrow, Safety Not Guaranteed is ambitious in a very contained way. Sweet, clever and funny, this film may prove overly quirky for some viewers, but for the less cynical there is something cathartic about the film’s central proposition. Is Kenneth a character deeply affected by paranoia, some kind of scientific genius, or just a man encumbered by regret?
Aubrey Plaza is the centre of this film, sure she is just playing a less confident, more loner version of her character from Parks and Recreation (the eternally dead-pan April), but she has cornered the market as indie boys’ dream girl, who indie girls also want to be friends with. Her desire to make a connection with someone is at the heart of the film. While her widowed father’s (a delightful cameo from Jeff Garlin, Curb Your Enthusiam) attempts to make her act her young age are funny, seeing her find purpose through the seeming insanity of Kenneth is more endearing than it sounds.
Parallel to Darius and Kenneth’s storyline is Jeff’s, similar in that he is also trying to recapture something of his past. His nostalgia for his younger, cooler self is cringeworthy as he desperately tries to reconnect with his gorgeous high-school girlfriend. This is a film where all the characters learn a lesson, but without any self-righteousness or preaching coming from the director.
Safety Not Guaranteed has real pathos, which is always a lovely counterbalance to comedy. As recent film Your Sister’s Sister proved, Mark Duplass is an actor ready (if he wants to) to take on the mainstream as well as hipster counterculture. Safety Not Guaranteed also straddles this boundary offering something for the indie kids and something for the multiplex audience.
Safety Not Guaranteed is released in Australia on October 18th
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Cast: Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza, Jeff Johnson, Karan Soni, Jeff Carlin