Safety Not Guaranteed (directed by Colin Trevorrow) is unique among Sundance entrants. First off, it is essentially a fantasy film. Second, it revolves around Aubrey Plaza (April in Parks and Recreation) not being a sarcastic youth…as much. Third, it takes place in Seattle instead of Brooklyn. Good ol’ Seattle: Brooklyn of the ’90s!
But all these things that make Safety stand out from the average Sundance pack are also what make it one of the most enjoyable films in this year’s roster. We see Darius (Plaza), a down-on-her-luck magazine intern treated to a work trip by her skeezy boss, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson). Jeff wants to write a profile on someone who took out a classified ad in a local newspaper looking for a companion to travel back in time (see poster). The ad advises that applicants “must bring [their] own weapons” because “safety not guaranteed”—hence the title. Darius is intrigued by the ad, and isn’t looking to make fun of whoever took it out. In a bout of investigative journalism, she becomes his perfect sidekick, and Kenneth (Mark Duplass)—the guy wants to travel back in time—may not be so batty after all.
Whereas these characters seem to be ones we’ve seen all over movies and TV before —the ironic hipster with no real emotion or loyalty; the sweaty, vest-wearing icky boss; the crazy guy with a crazier scheme—it only takes a few minutes to realize that Safety Not Guaranteed is filled with real three-dimensional people. Even the entirely unlikeable Jeff becomes sympathetic halfway through—he’s like if Brett Ratner was a human being.
Plaza’s performance (her first leading role) is a breath of fresh air. She’s great on Parks and Rec, and had small parts in movies like Mystery Team and Funny People (and can be seen in the first season of 30 Rock playing an NBC page!), but this is the first time that she really gets to show her full potential. She’s endearing, funny, slick, and sad—but not too sad. The movie has no major mopey moments (as many independent films these days do), but it is jam packed with emotion.
In the end, what makes Safety work is that as we see a group of cynics become enraptured with a weirdo’s plan to build a time machine, we are sucked in as well. Darius and Jeff present every logical argument that any audience member may bring up, but everyone is rooting for Kenneth to break the space time continuum by the end (or beginning? Dun dun dun!).
Safety Not Guaranteed is a unique low-budget sci-fi adventure with very little sci-fi. Aubrey Plaza’s slight break of type allows her to shine in a role that really could not be played by anyone else. It has a bit of action, lots of laughs, and even some awkward sexual encounters. A-