Safety Not Guaranteed is a different kind of time travel movie. Starring Jack Johnson (New Girl), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) and Mark Duplass, Safety Not Guaranteed gracefully blends elements of romantic comedy with the unvarnished look and feel of an indie film with an extra pinch of of dark and weird. Rookie director and writer combo Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly created a sweet and strange film about time travel and all the baggage that accompanies that desire inspired by an ad that actually appeared in a newspaper classifieds section in the 90s.
Magazine writer Jeff (Johnson) convinces his editor to spring for a business trip back to his hometown to chase a story about a man who placed an ad in the classifieds seeking a partner for time travel, the most unbelievable part of the film that I’m completely willing to forgive, the magazine budgeted for him to take two interns (Plaza and Karan Soni) along for the ride. Once the trio arrive in Oceanview, a small town outside Seattle, it becomes clear that Jeff has his mind on a different mission and Plaza’s Darius takes the lead on the story.
The film is tied together by the defining sentiment of time travel, and a nagging desire that is present in most of our lives to a certain degree. The desire to recapture a lost moment, it’s nostalgia and regret. Kenneth (Duplass) suffers from a hightened state of this desire, he’s detached from reality but not entirely insane. His belief in time travel is authentic and truthful and in a brilliant performance by Duplass, his outlandish behaviour and conspiracy theories feel very much a part of a very real, very broken person. He holds certain delusions but he’s cognisant about the way the world works, and even some of his conspiracy theories are verified as truth. He seeks out a partner because he understood the value of having someone even if it meant making compromises to his own plans.
While there are a number of stories being told, Jeff returning home, Arnau gaining some offline life experience, they all coalesce around Kenneth and Darius and their strange relationship where the trust goes to a place between and delusion. Kenneth found a truth about time travel that Darius needed to believe in, his sweetness and dedication and strangeness created this weird chemistry that really worked in an unusual kind of way. Aubrey Plaza brings a refreshingly textured performance to Darius, the “sullen intern” who has been carrying around the guilt of her mother’s death for years. It’s this pain that draws the very unlikely couple, Darius and Kenneth, together in such a genuine way.
Kenneth was discussing time travel in a very literal sense. He’s on a mission and is building a machine and a course of action. Safety Not Guaranteed doesn’t limit it’s scope of examination to the attempts to literally travel through time. Through Jeff we see a form of time travel that is much more common in our world and doesn’t come with the same kind of stigma.
Jeff’s attempt to recapture a moments lost in time is a feeling most people can relate to and something I’m sure more than one of you have tried. He wants to return to a time in his life that he idealized, maybe he was never as popular as he imagined, and his relationship with Liz was probably not so perfect, but from a distance it’s become this unattainable perfection that suddenly seems within reach when he goes back into town and finds Liz single and perhaps more perfect than he remembered. Jeff time traveled in a more metaphorical sense when he returned to his home town, drinking beer at a high school game and even reconnecting with his high school sweetheart. Jeff gets a hard dose of reality and realizes that this dalliance back home isn’t real, and he can’t go back in time to a moment that might have not ever existed.
As for Kenneth and Darius, the film leaves off in a totally bizarre open ended fashion that allows us optimists to believe…
Safety Not Guaranteed delivers a funny, wacky and heartbreaking story about what it means to time travel and very real reasons why people want to go back (and I’m not talking lotto tickets, stocks or sports scores) with fantastic performances from the leads as well as the supporting cast (Jeff Garlin and Kristen Bell were notably excellent in their brief appearances).
In the midst of super hero blockbuster season Safety Not Guaranteed is wonderful film that exists on smaller scale but with huge heart that is an absolute must see this summer.
Safety Not Guaranteed starts its exclusive Toronto engagement tomorrow (June 15th) only at Cineplex Varsity Cinemas!