[Review] - Safety Not Guaranteed


Safety Not Guaranteed, a fictional story based on an actual classified ad, is a movie that has no idea what it wants to be. Throughout the film, people are asked, "what is your mission", or why are they going back in time. The film could stand to answer that question itself, as it manoeuvres it's way through comedy, drama, spy thriller, back to comedy and romance. It is as undefinable as life itself, and ends just as strangely. Which is why, despite the fact that I never knew what the movie was trying to tell me, or why I should care about these characters, I left the theatre having really enjoyed it.

Hit the jump for the review, which contained spoilers, which were then erased from existence.

I won't spoil the ending of the film just yet, but I will say after watching the movie, I immediately wanted to rewatch it with a different state of mind. I feel this is one of those films that will actually improve with each viewing. That being said, it is a jarring experience the first time. It clearly wants us to laugh, it just doesn't want us to laugh all of the time. And it never wants us to cry, but it might be OK if we got a little depressed from time to time. At the start, the movie veers a little too close to the disenfranchised youth aspect, pushing the outsider looking in a little too hard, but as soon as the action moves away from Seattle, they leave that tone behind too.

Having thought about it for too short a time now, the best I can say is this is a movie about three people obsessed with the past. Darius (Aubrey Plaza), Kenneth (Mark Duplass) and Jeff (Jake Johnson) are all deeply damaged by an event in their past, to the extent that one has become shiftless in life, one has become obsessive, and the other has built what he believes is a time machine. Each of them is forced to come to terms with this past, each in their own screwed up way.

The cast are clearly just as confused about what they're meant to be doing as we are watching them. Aubrey Plaza is a standout, and succeeds in avoiding the 'Michael Cera Pit Of Doom', wherein she is forced to play a variation of her Parcs and Rec character for the next ten years. And while there is some of April in Darius, this character isn't as aggressively apathetic as the Pawnee resident. The same cannot be said for Jake Johnson, whose character here is very much the same he plays week to week on New Girl, is just as unfocused, and just as responsible for the truest moments of laugh out loud comedy.

Johnson is saddled with a strange subplot, in which he hunts down a teenage love interest, having obsessed over her apparently for year, though why he's this obsessive is never explained, and by the film's end he seems to have been cured. Left even more alone in the script's vortex of padding is the actually funny Karan  Soni, as intern and virgin Arnau. His character exudes so much desperation and pathos, and is played marvellously, and does get something of a complete story arc, but it's too truncated for my liking.

The rest of the cast are made up of comedians. Cameos by Jeff Garlin, Kristen Bell and Mary Lynn Rajskub, each in roles so small you wonder what they were doing there in the first place, suggest one of two things: either the producers really were expecting this movie to be funnier then it turned out, or they were subscribing to Joss Whedon's rule of actors. Comedy is the hard one, so he says, and if they can do that one, then drama is easy.

The stand out though, is Mark Duplass as the obviously disturbed Kenneth, writer of the ad and desperate to go back to change some horrible event. It is to his credit when I say the role is nearly unwatchable. This is a man ruled by delusions, not just ones involving time travel. He jumps around, talking about marshal arts like Mac from It's Always Sunny... Watching him do stunted kicks, and half rolls, and think he's being remarkable, is painful. And his mood swings make you want to recoil. That he's weird is evident, but why he's weird is never fully explained. That his back story is never fully filled in, with only little snippets, like the huge empty house, or his ear, or the strange relationships he's had with the things in his life, add to the texture of a character who might have been damaged by a single event, or might have been damaged before, but not as much.

In a summer that has disappointed me week after week, Safety Not Guaranteed was a surprise. If not at first, then it will the next time.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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