Review: SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012)
In Short: Believe.
Recommended: Hell Yes!
KENNETH: Have you ever faced certain death?
DARIUS: If it was so certain, I wouldn’t be here, would I?
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a twenty-something intern at a glossy Seattle magazine who spends her days taking abuse from the editorial staff and her nights doing not much of anything interesting. Indeed, the perpetually gloomy and sarcastic Darius has few friends and in fact seems to be a virgin – this intelligence having been vouchsafed to her father (humiliatingly enough) by her former roommate, with whom he is Facebook friends. Unsurprisingly, her attitude masks an unshakeable sadness and loneliness. But she knows perfectly well that she’s spinning her wheels, so when Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), a douchey staff writer at the magazine, pitches a puff piece about some nutjob who has placed an ad in the paper looking for someone to accompany him back in time, she volunteers to help out.
Soon Darius, Jeff, and an ultra-nerd named Arnau (Karan Soni), who has no particular interest in journalism but thinks that “diversity” will look good on his graduate school applications, are on their way up the Washington coast in Jeff’s Escalade (he’s the type of person who makes sure everyone knows he drives an Escalade) in search of what they think will be a light and funny story. Fairly quickly, they track down the person who placed the ad, a reclusive, deeply paranoid sort named Kenneth (Mark Duplass). Kenneth recognizes Jeff’s insincerity and general jackassitude almost immediately and decisively rejects him as a candidate, but Darius has better luck.
She’s also more or less on her own with Kenneth, since Jeff largely abandons the effort in favor of reconnecting with a former girlfriend (a luminous Jenica Bergere) and Arnau would rather hang out in the motel, gaming on his super-fast computer. (It’s so fast it has flames on it.) But although Kenneth is certainly eccentric to the nth degree, he’s also intelligent, kind-hearted, and sensitive, not to mention attractive in an ordinary-folks kind of way. He is also absolutely, sincerely convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he’s figured out how to travel through time and change the past.
Schizoid freak show? Domestic terrorist? Mad genius? Maybe a little of all of these? Darius doesn’t know, and whenever we’ve decided *we know, writer Derek Connolly throws another twist at us. What’s clear is that the two oddballs find in one another true kindred spirits, and by the time the pitch-perfect ending (I won’t give it away) rolls around, actual literal time travel is kind of almost beside the point.
While Darius and Kenneth train for their “mission” to the past, Jeff, who it turns out has every reason to want to get out of the office for a while, hooks up with his high-school ex. (“My first blow job,” he proudly informs the bemused interns.) But instead of the wild and crazy golden-haired goddess he remembers, he discovers a refreshingly grounded woman who likes him well enough but sees right through his big-shot facade, and their encounter leaves him aching for the good old days when he was a high school BMOC with the prettiest girl in school on his arm. It seems that Kenneth isn’t the only person in western Washington who longs for yesterday.
“This mission is about regret,” Kenneth tells Darius, and regret fuels everyone, from Kenneth’s possibly insane efforts to Darius’s collusion in those efforts (which include at least one federal crime, but who’s counting?) to Jeff’s desperate attempt to recapture the good old days—and when that attempt fails, his determination to drag the hapless Arnau along on a life binge and give him something awesome to remember. So there’s a sense of wistfulness hanging over the proceedings, but the movie is also big-hearted and funny (Jeff in particular has some great one-liners, and Karan Soni’s hilariously deadpan delivery belies Arnau’s complete and utter bafflement and terror as things start to get out of hand).
The acting is terrific. Aubrey Plaza sort of reminded me of Thora Birch in *Ghost World, with a tough-girl exterior that fools exactly no one. Mark Duplass has the more difficult job in portraying someone who is in the world but maybe not of it, so to speak; “movie crazy” is tough to do believably and well, but Duplass doesn’t set a foot wrong. Plaza and Duplass have such lovely chemistry that I was yearning for the two of them to get together pretty much from their first encounter.
Oh, and the movie also features one of the funniest car chases in recent memory, and the soundtrack is awesome. Really, there’s nothing about this movie I *didn’t love. This sweet little indie is the best movie I’ve seen this year, and it’s the perfect palate cleanser for anyone suffering from summer blockbuster fatigue.
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