Director: Colin Trevorrow. Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson. USA, 2013. IMDB: 7.0. My rating: 4/4. Science fiction romantic comedy.
– What are you guys, racists?
– It’s complicated.
(conversation between Darius and guys when she asks them to get out of the car in a bad-looking suburb mostly populated by immigrants)
Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
(main premise of the movie)
What a lovely and touching movie. Such an surprise! With its funny sci-fi premise and 750,000 budget one could expect in best case scenario some nerdy sci-fi geek C-movie. But that’s not the case.
The story starts with Darius (Aubrey Plaza), recent disappointed and weird college graduate, who has just started her internship in a Seattle magazine, where her duties include toilet paper changing as well. Her performance truly develops and shines as film progresses. Actually, that could refer to all of the movie characters – and this is one of the reasons why it’s so brilliant. You see them not as still frozen images, but real, live characters, that are still taking shape and form in front of your eyes. Such depth and tenderness is not typical of this genre although in last decade things are changing. So, when Jeff (wonderful performance from Jake Johnson), one of the magazine’s writers, gets the approval of the boss to investigate the aforementioned ad, he selects “the lesbian and the Indian” (that would be Darius and other intern Arnau, a shy computer nerd and biology student). Together they try to find the person behind the ad and soon with the help of Darius (as Jeff with his fake smile failed quickly) find a neurotic and paranoid grocery stock clerk Kenneth (brilliant Mark Duplass!), claiming that he build a time machine and that he is followed by government agents… and then the real fun begins. Because Kenneth is absolutely convincing in what he says and does. He looks miserable and when you see him for the first time, he causes pity. Middle-aged guy, who spends most of his time putting tomatoes and pasta on the shelves in the local store. But his eyes are burning and he deeply believes in his ideas. That’s enough to know about the plot as it has enough great twists and turns and is well done.
What makes this movie so great? Of course, it’s not a pure sci-fi – the premise just helps to build up the story and the ambient, the motivations – till the end we doubt whether Kenneth is just paranoid psycho or he has really built a time machine. But… the characters. The dialogues are brilliant (and you cannot see it that often in most similar movies). The feelings. They dream to come back to the past as the present is not the place they feel comfortable, they, just like many of us, refuse to become adults.
Most surprisingly, the characters undergo many subtle changes. In the beginning, all of them seem just a bunch of guys with a lot of drawbacks. But as the story unveils, each shows unexpected good sides, and what is more important, they develop them with the help of each other. Surprisingly the movie shows how we, humans, need each other to bring out the best out of us. Even Jeff, who in the beginning of the movie looks like the biggest jerk of all three, reveals to be sweet and romantic, leaving apart his prejudice against his ex girlfriend. And somehow you realize that it turns out to be a romantic comedy set in a somewhat sci-fi ambient with a right dose of weird humour and a lot of really hilarious moments.
The movie is full of scenes that in theory could end up full of cliches or simply boring – Jeff meeting his first love, Aubrey discovering her new talents and feelings, Arnau’s shy approach to a girl he liked and many other scenes – but all these episodes are so charming and sincere that you wish the movie lasted longer. This is magic.
”Safety Not Guaranteed” was widely appraised on various festivals and got highest scores everywhere. Unsurprisingly Trevorrow later went big and directed Jurassic World. That was not a bad try, but hey Colin, we hope you will still make movies like Safety Not Guaranteed. By the way, the ad really existed and was published in a newspaper in 1997. That’s how Trevorrow got the main idea.