Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed
Where are you going? It is a question asked by a trio of journalists in Safety Not Guaranteed of a mysterious wannabe time-traveler, and a question that they don’t quite really know they will be answering for themselves.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the genuinely beautiful and funny film follows the curious investigation of a man who is looking for a partner with whom to go back in time. An esoteric classified ad, warning ‘bring your own weapons,’ and ‘safety not guaranteed,’ piques the interests of an accomplished yet bombastic journalist, and two interns, one seeking experience (work and life) and the other, well, livelihood.
The latter is Darius, played superbly by the droll and sardonic Aubrey Plaza, a poor, disenchanted young woman still coping with the death of her mother and whose father is pretty sure she is still a virgin. With her is fellow unpaid worker Arnau, playing the role of the awkward yet smart Indian student looking to bolster his resume. The pair is led by Jeff (a surprisingly captivating Jake M. Johnson), a man with an Escalade, a condo, and no one with home to share his life.
“The mission is about regret,” explains Kenneth (Mark Duplass, hysterical and charming), the man who believes he is being followed by the government, believes he can travel back in history, and believes, after much time together, that Darius truly wants to be his partner in time. Darius, though, and Arnau and Jeff all too have their own missions, and perhaps it is Kenneth, driven by a singular goal, who is the most sure about the life he is leading.
These are not caricatures, however; there are believable people who allow growth within the plausible 15% or so that people can change. The power of this movie, and others such as Little Miss Sunshine (the two films share producers), is that the characters don’t necessarily make some monumental or cathartic shift in their lives based off one experience. Instead, they gradually grow and change, allowing for the novel and mysterious to creep into their safe world and alter it just slightly.
Darius especially, and Jeff and Arnau to lesser extents, all allow themselves on this journey to confront their respective past, present, and future. Jeff takes up the assignment we find out mainly because an attractive girl he dated in high school still lives in the area, and he hopes she is just as hot as she was before. “She is not what I thought she would be,” he says to Darius after spying on his former lover. “Cause she is your age?” she offers.
She isn’t what Jeff initially expects, because yes, she is not 18 anymore. And of course, Kenneth isn’t what Darius exactly expects. As his trust in her grows, the two naturally form a bond, and the ruse of investigating this man to make a story of him in a magazine quickly evaporates. Jeff pokes and prods Darius, easily learning that something more is developing, just as he pokes and prods Arnau for not ‘crushing chicks’ while he is still young.
But Jeff isn’t just a jerk, Arnau isn’t just a nerd, and Darius isn’t just a loner. They are just three people in need of new experiences in life, and when they find Kenneth, they are taken on a surprisingly heartwarming and dramatic ride, and it doesn’t really matter which way through time they are traveling. Satisfying through and through, Safety Not Guaranteed is the perfect blend of whimsy and drama, with lots of laughs and maybe a few tears thrown in along the way.