Time travel brings introverts together in the surprisingly affecting Safety Not Guaranteed
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Screenplay by Derek Connolly
An eccentric and mysterious classified ad appears calling for a time-travel partner. Leads on other interesting stories have dried up for a Seattle magazine and so a reporter and two interns are dispatched to a small town to bring home a quirky character piece. Director Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed creeps up on the viewer quite slowly, at first giving off the air of predictability but soon developing a complex mood of adventure, anxiety and hope. At the film’s best it presents the damaged, scarred characters that inhabit it with chances to give into the moment and seize a little bit of happiness that they have never known.
Jeff, the pompous reporter in charge (played by Jake M. Johnson of TV’s The New Girl) turns out to have only wanted to go on the road trip for a chance to look up the beautiful girl who got away from him in high school. Distracted and in no hurry to return to the big city, Jeff leaves the real reconnaissance to the interns. Quiet Arnau (Karan Soni) takes on the technical logistics while brooding Darius (Aubrey Plaza) finds ways to engage Kenneth, the withdrawn and intensely obsessive man who is behind the listing. Posing as a serious respondent to the ad, Darius carefully and slyly befriends Kenneth to extract the story. Inadvertently she finds a man not too unlike herself. It is the relationship between Kenneth and Darius, two broken people hiding in plain sight, that makes you feel as though the movie is never wasting your time or drifting too far towards kooky independent film fare that’s been seen before.
Mark Duplass, known as an indie writer, director and actor with such works under his belt as The Puffy Chair, Humpday and Jeff Who Lives At Home turns in an enigmatic performance as Kenneth. Duplass keeps you guessing as to whether he is a dangerous lunatic or a fragile, misunderstood loner. Kenneth is all about getting down to the regimented training and planning that time travelling demands of them. The preparations bring these introverts out of their shells and the resulting camaraderie fosters a kind of trust where both are able to let their guards down. Plaza, known best as April the intern on NBC’s Parks and Recreation plays Darius. If Darius seems dangerously close in type to April as another morose intern, it’s because scribe Derek Connelly penned the story with Plaza in mind. Significant dimension is added to Darius by insinuating that this is exactly the adventure this profoundly sad girl has been waiting for all her life, whether it is real or not.
Connelly’s smart script builds relationships out of the characters’ weaknesses. Jeff’s side story of a hunt for an almost mythological woman who couldn’t possibly live up to his expectations augments the idea that the fantasies we maintain can hold us back but also keep us dreaming for better or for worse. Jeff leaves the viewer impatient to return to the less selfish and more intriguing duo of Darius and Kenneth whose characters are charming with their very realistic hesitation in divulging to one another what haunts them. All of their deepest connections in life are irretrievably in the past. They are two lost souls and an escape to happier times seems like the most rational thing to do for the both of them. They both fall in love with the idea of a distant time and place where they can somehow be content for once. But is it all in Kenneth’s head or could things really come together for them?
The glorious strong point of the film is that the audience doesn’t know what direction the narrative is going. It’s heavy enough amongst the comedic scenes that it seems that something entirely tragic might happen at any moment. Kenneth could flip out or maybe we just might start travelling through time. It lets us run wild with our imaginations. The possibility of the unbelievable and the underlying past pain bring a gratifying tension to the culmination of their mission that is certain to stick with you for a long time.
Link to the original classified ad:
– Lane Scarberry