Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
by Eddie Mouradian
Safety Not Guaranteed is the exciting, crisp story of Darius (Aubrey Plaza, all eyes and smirks), and Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a possible time-traveler and probable nut job, on whom she is doing an undercover story for her internship at a trendy Seattle magazine. It’s a credit to how much I liked this movie that I’m not faulting it for missing the boat on a Just One of the Guys twist.
Darius is propelled into Kenneth’s life when her boss Jeff (Jake Johnson) pitches the idea for a story in response to Kenneth’s personal ad seeking a companion for his time-travel adventure. The cynical duo bring along another intern, nebbish Arnau (Karan Soi), then head to a Seattle beach town to uncover Kenneth’s Doc Brown-complex. When smarmy Jeff quickly fails Kenneth’s BS test, Darius is sent in to disarm Kenneth with her wily charms. Safety may not be guaranteed, but complications certainly are.
In less deft hands, these complications could easily have seemed boilerplate: Ladies man Jeff contrived the trip to connect with an old girlfriend; Darius blames herself for her mother’s death years earlier; Kenneth mourns a lost love. However, the way each revelation is handled, presented and turned on its head adds dimensions to the film.
Instead, writer Derek Connolly and director Collin Trevorrow, created a film that is powerful, charming, funny and, in many ways, quietly heartbreaking. The message about loss—whether it’s your first love, a parent, your youth—is profound. It’s a testament to all involved that they make you root for the outlandish time-travel conceit, just so these very real characters can get their much-needed, much-desired second chances.
Much of the success lies on the shoulders of the film’s exceptionally charming cast. In small roles, Kristen Bell, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Jeff Garlin successfuly steal their couple of scenes. Aubrey Plaza takes a great first step away from April Ludgate, even if the characters (and performances) share the same DNA. Mark Duplass is very likable in the role, even when he has a hard time diluting his smartass charm to truly embody someone as damaged as Kenneth. Jake Johnson, on the other hand, shines as Jeff. Johnson somehow makes thirtysomething Jeff’s mission to aggressively de-virginize the introverted Arnau, both tragic and endearing. He makes you want to simultaneously be Jeff’s wingman for a wild night out and give him a hug.
There were a few unnecessary twists and turns along the way: the romance between Darius and Kenneth doesn’t really propel the story forward—these two lost people coming alive in each other’s company was enough for me. The ending, which I won’t spoil here, requires as big a leap of faith from the audience as it did for the characters. I did take the leap, and suggest you do too.
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