Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) – Review

3 Stars

Director Colin Trevorrow is coining the term “low sci-fi” for his description of the low-budget genre that Safety Not Guaranteed inhabits. In recent years there have been a slew of low-budget indie sci-fi flicks that play more like indie dramas with sci-fi elements, this is one of those films. While time travel is a major topic here, it is not what this movie is about. Playing off of the idea that if time travel were possible, everyone has something in their life that they would like to go back to. Maybe it’s a moment of loss the traveler wishes to set right, or possibly to reconnect with a love from their past. That’s the basis for Safety Not Guaranteed, connections made in the past effect connections made in the present which would effect connections made in the future.

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a young intern at a magazine and is given the chance to help with the investigation of a strange classified ad. The ad seeks someone to travel back in time with. Jeff (Jake Johnson), a staff writer, heads out to Oceanview, WA with Darius and another intern, Arnua. Once there Jeff’s reason for suggesting the assignment becomes clear, he’s trying to reconnect with an old flame. The trio discover who placed the ad, Kenneth (Mark Duplass), but when Jeff approaches him he turns him away. Darius is the only person Kenneth is willing to take on this mission. The pair grow closer as they share their reasons for travelling back in time. Kenneth really believes he’s created a time machine, and he must train Darius to prepare for the trip. At first glance Kenneth seems completely out of his mind, but as Darius is further sucked into his world, she begins to warm to him and the idea that he may have actually built a real working time machine. Will the duo complete their mission, or will Kenneth’s insanity finally come to light?

Writer Derek Connolly has constructed a wonderful screenplay filled with an intriguing plot and interesting characters. The parallels between Kenneth’s and Darius’ relationship and the rekindling of Jeff’s with his old lover are brilliantly laid out. In a way Jeff has travelled through time, as we all do. He’s grown up – essentially travelling to visit a future version of his past love. Even more interesting is the classified ad Safety Not Guaranteed is based on and takes its name from is real. The address is changes for the movie, but the rest of the ad is a real advert that was placed as a sort of joke (check out this article for the whole story).

The cast is great, but Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass really stand out. A story like this hinges on strong acting, and these two complement each other nicely making their spiraling romance more believable. If there’s one complaint I have it’s the ending. They simply went too far and took what was a deep emotional tale and made it into a sci-fi spectacle. I’ve heard the original ending was much more dark and cynical, which seems better suited to this film rather than the happy ending we got. I won’t spoil it for you, but you’ll know what I mean when you see it.

If you liked past “low sci-fi” flicks like the incredibly intricate time travel flick Primer or the amazingly dramatic Another Earth then Safety Not Guaranteed will entertain.

Director: Colin Trevorrow
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson

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