Independent Pick: Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
If you like your movies unique and well-made, then the award-winning Safety Not Guaranteed is for you. With the simple inspiration of an infamous (and spoof) classified ad from ‘Backwoods Home Magazine’, the film builds an engrossing narrative, with fantastic characters and real momentum.
“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.”
A disillusioned magazine intern, Darius (Aubrey Plaza), is assigned to assist disinterested writer, Jeff (Jake Johnson) and fellow intern, Arnau (Karan Soni), in investigating the story behind the mysterious advert. Jeff’s singular motivation is the fact that an old flame lives in the same beach community listed in the ad, but Darius becomes drawn into the life of supposed time-traveller, Kenneth (Mark Duplass) – going ‘undercover’ to expose him as a fraud. She earns his trust by explaining that her desire to time-travel stems from a wish to go back and prevent her mother’s death. Kenneth explains that his mission is to go back and prevent the death of his old girlfriend, who died when someone drove a car into her house. As Darius undertakes various training exercises with Kenneth to prepare for their trip through time, the magazine team begin to learn the truth about Kenneth – calling their assumptions about him into question.
What writer Derek Connolly delivers here is a fully-formed female leading character – bolstered by a pitch-perfect performance from Aubrey Plaza (Parks And Recreation). Darius is just a person, trying to live her life on her own terms – just as soon as she figures out what she might want those terms to be. She is not defined by her relationship to the men around her – although there is a beautifully played out romance to be had – but rather, a human being making choices to suit herself. The result is a wonderfully-paced tale of a woman following her instincts, simply to find out where they lead.
Plaza’s leading role is brilliantly balanced by Mark Duplass’ portrayal of the very private Kenneth. We learn about him as Darius does, and find ourselves listening carefully to her gut instincts rather than our own, giving us a very real investment in their connection. Sterling support comes from Jake Johnson (New Girl), as her morally questionable team leader, and from Karan Soni, whose innocence and quietness are the perfect counterpoint to Johnson’s shadiness.
Colin Trevorrow directs Derek Connolly’s script here, and it’s the first feature film for both. You’ll be hearing a lot more about them very soon, though, as they are the writing/directing team behind the upcoming Jurassic World.