Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

Right off the bat: Safety Not Guaranteed very swiftly stolen the mantle from all others as my highlight from this year's Melbourne International Film Festival. 

Not for a long while has a film completely and utterly charmed the bejeezus out of me, and sent me from the theatre with such an elated spring in its step. Colin Trevorrow's somewhat-sci-fi romantic comedy isn't to be congratulated merely on its ability to elicit a good mood however; while far from perfect, Safety Not Guaranteed is littered with stellar performances, a whip-smart delightful script, and is surprisingly touching. 

Unless you're the type of person who spends far too much time on Reddit than is probably healthy, you may not have been aware of a joke ad that did the rounds online. It was a wanted ad, seeking a partner to go back in time with. "MUST BRING OWN WEAPONS." it declared, "SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED. I HAVE ONLY DONE THIS ONCE BEFORE". Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly - both of whom make their feature debut here - as the question, what if this guy’s for real? Is he crazy? Does he actually think he can go back in time? 

Those sent to discover this are self-absorbed journalist Jeff (Jake M Johnson), and his two interns, nerdy and awkward Arnau (newcomer Karan Soni) and our heroine, Darius (Aubrey Plaza). The trio head to a seaside town outside of Seattle, to track down Kenneth (mumblecore veteran Mark Duplass), the weirdo who believes he has harnessed the secret of time travel. Jeff has taken the assignment in order to track down a high school sweetheart, bringing along the two interns to carry out the assignment for him. The trio find Kenneth a mulleted grocery store clerk, and Darius introduces herself - sarcastically, and challenging Kenneth’s “calculations” - as a willing partner in time travel. As it turns out, he’s deadly serious about his mission, and his “training”, and the fact that he’s being monitored by agents of some sort. As the slightly jaded and quietly unhappy Darius becomes increasingly intrigued with Kenneth and deeper embroiled in his plan, the lines between investigative journalism and personal mission become progressively more blurred. How much of the goings-on are in Kenneth’s head? Does it matter? 

Where Safety Not Guaranteed draws its strength is from a strong cast, great chemistry between the leads, and a whip-crackingly intelligent script. One might believe the trajectory of the film to be an easily identifiable one, but Derek Connolly manages to mostly avoid cliches successfully, and keeps things  Each character is a three-dimensional whole person, even the douchey Jeff, who could very well have ended up an utterly unlikable fella. While it’s obvious Kenneth and Darius will get together, the romance is a touching and understated one. Hell, the efforts of those at the helm of Safety Not Guaranteed result in it being difficult to tell whether time travel will actually occur even as the film reaches its last few minutes. 

Aubrey Plaza is essentially playing a slight variation on April Ludgate, her character in Parks and Recreation, but in this instance one can forgive her for playing to her strengths. Plaza appears slightly shaky during the film’s opening scenes, but as the story progresses she proves herself as more than capable in a lead role. Duplass too, has of late proved himself to be an on-screen presence to be reckoned with. In a role that could have descended into caricature, Duplass plays it straight, to poignant effect. To be honest, Safety Not Guaranteed is very much Duplass’s show. 

Safety Not Guaranteed is one of the smarter, more ambitious and genre-defying films I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in a long while. It’s touching and intelligent, kind-hearted and very, very funny. As to whether the heroes actually achieve time travel, that is not something I’ll be divulging.

I give Safety Not Guaranteed 4 out of 5 time-travel denim jackets. 

No comments:

Post a Comment