[Review] – Safety Not Guaranteed

20 Jun

Title: Safety Not Guaranteed
Year: 2012
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Derek Connolly
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni, Mark Duplass
MPAA Rating: R, language including some sexual references
Runtime: 94 min
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Metacritic: 72

Ever since I saw the trailer for Safety Not Guaranteed, which played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, I knew this one would be right up my alley. Having now finally seen it, I can safely say I was so absolutely right regarding this one. It’s such a small little film, a counter to all the big summer tentpole movies we’re getting right now, and yet it’s far better than pretty much any of those will be, becoming a quirky and infinitely charming movie that works so damn well because of how much heart’s in the story, and how amazingly its cast portrays that. That is led, of course, by Aubrey Plaza, who I already had a pretty huge crush on that only saw itself get bigger after seeing her here. She’s sheer perfection.

Here’s the outline of the little gem that is Safety Not Guaranteed: one day, an ad appears in the paper that reads “Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” Ms. Plaza plays Darius, a magazine intern who’s part of the team, alongside Jeff, a writer played by New Girl‘s Jake Johnson and another intern named Arnau played by Karan Soni, set to track down and interview Kenneth, the local supermarket clerk that put up the ad and genuinely believes in what he said in it. And of course they’ll embark on this super quirky and hilarious, yet unexpectedly heartfelt journey that I was just so damn into.

Now, that plot description, or whatever other plot description of its kind you’ll find online, will never really do this film justice. That just makes it sound like it’ll be this very unambitious little film that will be a nice enough comedy and that’s it. And yet I didn’t really find it that unambitious, and even though it does have some hilarious bits in it, it actually takes itself far more seriously than any comedy would, you have characters that are super rich, you have truly amazing dialogue, and the whole notion of time-traveling isn’t just used as cheap gimmick, but they actually take it kind of seriously and not just as a prop for jokes.

This is pretty much the most amazing combination of sci-fi and a romantic-dramedy you’ll ever find. The fact that director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly, who met as interns on Saturday Night Live and are both making their feature debuts here, made such an impeccable film on their first at-bat is actually pretty remarkable. It all starts with the attention that’s paid to the characters here, this is a film that doesn’t fill up its short running time with big set pieces, but that allows itself to be relaxed and to just observe the characters. Arnau who’s this nerdy virgin, Jeff who really just wants to take the days off to track down this man to reconnect with his high-school sweetheart, Darius who is a sarcastic kind of girl that you know Ms. Plaza will play to perfection and who knows how to speak to Kenneth, a likable and weird loner that she actually starts falling for as she gets to know him.

These characters are just fantastic to get to know. They are fantastic because of they way in which they are written by Mr. Connolly, who actually won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance, who gives them much depth and makes them absolutely three-dimensional, mostly because the actual dialogue he gives them to say is one that means something here. And they are fantastic because of the way Mr. Trevorrow directs these performances from this great cast, he gets us to connect to their experiences, and he knows very well just how to avoid the clichés that may have been very easy to get trapped in here.

The actors, like I said, are also a big part of why this movie works so well, if not the biggest reason overall. Ms. Plaza is just absolute perfection, she’s my favorite part of the insanely talented Parks and Recreation ensemble (yes, I like April Ludgate more than I do Ron Swanson), and she had supporting roles in Edgar Wright‘s masterful adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (which I gave an A+ to), and Whit Stillman‘s Damsels in Distress (an A) and has upcoming roles in A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charlies Swan III, The To Do List and The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, all films that look genuinely interesting. So yeah, she has a really great future in front of her.

Also impressing in this cast, of course, is Mark Duplass as Kenneth. He knows so damn well how to balance the paranoia with the intelligence, the weirdness with the vulnerability, a role that I believe 99% of actors would have failed at pulling off and yet he makes it look so easy, stealing pretty much every scene he’s in (and sharing the thievery in the many ones he shares with Ms. Plaza). He’s a man that was one of the pioneers of the mumblecore movement with his brother Jay, and who have directed some of the subgenre’s most renowned films like The Puffy Chair and Baghead, and who are now steering towards more Hollywoodesque directing gigs with Cyrus and this year’s amazing Jeff, Who Lives at Home. And yet this guy is also becoming a truly great actor with a lot of screen presence, and will have been in five films this year by the time 2012 is over, including Kathryn Bigelow‘s Zero Dark Thirty.

I loved this film. I think it’s one of the year’s very best, and I think it really deserves to find a large audience that can see such heartfelt performance, such infinite charm on display. I’ve heard some people say that the ending totally lost them, but I thought it was excellent, not because it worked in the most technical of ways, but because you just got the sense that the film believed in its ending, and in the case of Safety Not Guaranteed that’s more than enough. Please, if you get the chance, go see this one. Oh, and I want more Aubrey Plaza in leading roles soon, please.

Grade: A

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