"Safety Not Guaranteed" but a Great Movie Is
"Safety Not Guaranteed" is a movie that as you’re watching will continuously make you wonder if the filmmakers knew exactly what kind of movie it was they set out to make. The beautiful thing about it is the writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow knew exactly what type of movie they were making and their twist and turns only heighten our curiosity of how this story will conclude.
The movie starts with a discovery of a newspaper advertisement from someone wanting a partner to go back in time with them. The ad proclaims that the partner will be paid when they return and they must supply their own weapons while it warns that "Safety is not Guaranteed." A Seattle magazine sends one of its writers, Jeff (Jake Johnson), along with two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), to find out who placed the ad hoping to get an interesting human story from it.
Darius takes the lead in the investigation since Jeff has only taken the assignment to look up an old flame he was once involved with. Darius is a loner and outsider who carries the burden of losing her mother. The potential story gives her a much needed distraction. She discovers the owner of the ad is a Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass) who acts suspiciously which strikes her curiosity and odd which draws her toward him. They meet when she tells him she is answering his ad. He is weary of Darius as only someone paranoid would be but her genuine interest wins him over. He takes her in and integrates her into his training.
Mr. Connolly has created an intelligent and sensitive character in Darius while arming her with a sharp wit that makes her enjoyable company. Ms. Plaza is wonderful bringing Darius to life. She is excellent at showing how she feels about the people and situations swirling around her without saying a word. It is a heartfelt performance that turns touching when she falls in love with Kenneth whom she recognizes as another lost soul. She senses that Kenneth was one of these little boys who kept to himself in the playground wanting only the company of his imagination rather then that of the other children. He still carries the scars of being bullied and teased from which he developed his paranoia.
Mr. Duplass does a convincing job of setting a good first impression of a paranoid nut and then developing him into an intelligent sensitive loner. He brings Darius into his amateurish training but his intensity and focus on the mission is anything but trivial. It is the Kenneth character who makes the first sharp turn away from a light romantic comedy into something that could become dangerous and tragic. And as the movie moves forward you begin to suspect that it is a character study of what happens to those shy, intelligent boys who seemed odd in school but prompted the question of what ever became of them.
A story that runs parallel with Darius and Mark’s is Jeff’s quest for his old girlfriend. Mr. Johnson is quite entertaining as a jackass who rants about his sexual conquests. He plans to track down his old girlfriend Liz (Jenica Bergere) for a quick fling. When they meet he is disappointed she’s not as attractive as he led himself to believe but falls for her after they dine together. The next morning instead of running he decides to build the relationship. Liz turns the tables on him by rebuffing him. To ease the sting of rejection Jeff goes on a bender taking Arnau with him. Jeff is determined to help Arnau, an Indian tech virgin nerd (cliché anyone?), have his first sexual experience. The Jeff and Arnau story is filler for the movie since both stories don’t even make it to the ninety minute mark. It is simply done and doesn’t distract from the main story but what makes it work is when Jeff shows he has a heart under all that bravado.
The ending doesn’t begin to materialize until the final minute of the movie. Mr. Connolly adds a couple of FBI agents to make the potential time-travel more urgent. But even though Darius and Mark elude the FBI and make it to their time traveling machine the ending is still up for grabs. Only when the conclusion plays out can the viewer love it or hate it. As I’ve said we are never really sure what type of movie this is but it helps when the ending fits. Or maybe not. I thought it would have ended a different way and I think my way would have had a better pay off. Other opinions liked the ending just fine. But one thing is for sure, it will keep you thinking about this movie a lot longer then it took you to get through it.