Safety Not Guaranteed is a guaranteed treat
In the September/October 1997 issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, a classified wanted ad requested “Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke” before concluding with “Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before”. While the ad was, in fact, a joke ran to help fill out the page, that hasn’t stopped it from inspiring countless dreamers, including first-time screenwriter Derek Connolly. In Connolly’s hands, the imagined story behind the classified ad became Safety Not Guaranteed, an indie comedy that takes a warm-hearted look at regret and hope in a world where, just maybe, it’s possible to go back in time and change things.
The debut feature directorial effort from Colin Trevorrow (since signed on for the Flight of the Navigator remake and much rumoured to be involved with Star Wars Episode VII), focuses on a trio from Seattle Magazine out to investigate the mysterious man seeking a partner to travel back in time with him. Snark-queen Aubrey Plaza is Darius, a misfit 20-something, who reaches out to the distrustful, alleged time-traveller, Kenneth (Mark Duplass). While their goofy, yet genuine mentor-protégé relationship develops, Darius’ sleazy boss Jeff (Jake Johnson) engages in some time travelling of his own and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) learns to live in the moment. A feel-good comedy laced with light thriller-touches, Safety Not Guaranteed proves to be as thought-provoking as it is silly; which is to say “quite”, on both counts.
Anyone familiar with leading lady Plaza’s doe-eyed, straight-faced delivery knows what she has to offer in Safety Not Guaranteed. Sweet in a slightly off-kilter manner, Plaza carries an air of both independence and vulnerability that suits to role of Darius exceedingly well. Paired with mumblecore hero Duplass, the duo display an awkwardly charming chemistry on-screen. Duplass himself is convincing as the regret-filled outcast looking to return to 2001 on a secret mission. As Kenneth, Duplass never comes across as less than sincere, no matter how ridiculous his actions or explanations become. It’s not an easy task, but Duplass is endearing in achieving it.
Trevorrow is equally as balanced in ensuring that Safety Not Guaranteed avoids becoming too heavy with its message. A terrific heist sequence sees some absurdly brilliant physical comedy from Duplass and the score always works to reinforce the quirky nature of the film. The plot itself has very little to do with actual time travel; anyone expecting a Back to the Future-like romp will be sadly disappointed. Much like Brit Marling’s Another Earth, the science-fiction element is used more as a backdrop for a story about relationships and coping with loss. While there’s the constant question lingering as to whether or not Kenneth is serious and capable of what he claims, the direction that Connolly takes his script makes the answer a moot point. That said, Safety Not Guaranteed does provide a satisfying finale, even if it does seem surprisingly clear-cut.
With a smart, thoughtful script, an assured vision and a strategically off-beat cast, Safety Not Guaranteed delivers a cute, light-hearted journey into one man’s optimistic belief. Gentle application of the film’s morals means that the message doesn’t become tiresome and the delivery presents as fresh and evocative. There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking here, but Safety Not Guaranteed is crowd-pleasing, just-sweet-enough cinematic treat. 8/10