WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED. I have only done this once before.
There are many kinds of films. Some movies are important because they help us empathize with characters experiencing injustice, racism, sexism, abuse, poverty and other forms of human suffering. On the other hand art can remind us of joy, excitement, kindness, adventure and the transcendance we sometimes reach. Life is both brutal and beautiful. Safety Not Guaranteed is as life-affirming of a film as I have seen in years and most certainly falls into the hopeful category. This is the kind of art experience that leaves you with feelings of magic and possibilities.
The basic idea of the film centers around Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) as a young intern at a Seattle newspaper. She is socially awkward and unsatisfied with her life. As an intern she volunteers for a job on the Washington coast where a mysterious person (Mark Duplass) has put an add up for a time-travel partner. All is set up for laughs (and there are plenty of them) but the story takes us to some surprisingly satisfying, honest emotional places.
The film begins as a somewhat typical indie comedy with some cute moments. The newspaper reporter (Jake Johnson) brings some slightly raunchier laughs as the stereotypical douchebag (“Have you ever partied in an Escalade?”). They are joined by another intern who is the cliched nerd who of course gets a chance to shine a bit as the movie develops. The three set out to find the person behind the ad and tell their story.
You slowly get to know these characters and the film draws you in bit by bit as the laughs increase and stereotypes are broken down. If there is anything I hate in Hollywood it is the embracing stereotypes and cliche. Most of the comedies I love deconstruct character types in films like The Breakfast Club, Joe Versus the Volcano and Knocked Up. In my life I find that stereotypes are useless. Human beings will always surprise us, in good and bad ways, with their actions. Safety Not Guaranteed reflects the life we live by showing us real people dealing with a difficult world.
Let it be known that Aubrey Plaza is a straight up movie star. This is her first opportunity to carry a film and she absolutely pulls it off. As her character opens up and her smile and warmth are revealed it is a sight to behold. Mark Duplass is also fantastic as a slightly strange but sensitive man who has been wounded in this life. He hasn’t responded with cynicism though. In fact Safety Not Guaranteed is a total rejection of cynicism.
Regret is one of the main themes here. Don’t get me wrong, you will get plenty of laughs. But the film is more honest about hurt and disappointment than your average comedy. Instead of dwelling in the loss of the past we are reminded that now is an opportunity to create a new reality. We aren’t stuck in the pain of what has taken place before. The movie uses time-travel as a way to explore our longing to heal our wounds.
I saw Safety Not Guaranteed at the Seattle International Film Festival with the director (Colin Trevorrow) in the audience. He told some great stories about the limited budget and filming quite quickly. You won’t notice the small budget while watching. This is also one of those experiences where you don’t know where the movie is going and the ending is well worth the wait. The climax in the film had the loudest, most celebratory response I have ever heard from an audience. Goosebumps! I am ready to go see it again.
Safety Not Guaranteed falls into the category of comedies like Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. As the viewer you are never insulted. These are characters that are real and you won’t be cheated at any point. This should be the surprise breakout comedy of 2012. Go see it.