Safety Not Guaranteed review

Review Ryan Lambie 20 Dec 2012 - 07:09

A blend of drama, romance, sci-fi, mystery and comedy, Safety Not Guaranteed is a must-see winter movie, Ryan writes...

Ever since HG Wells sent a Victorian hurtling into the future in his 1895 novel The Time Machine, science fiction writers - and later filmmakers - have been playing around with the time travel plot device. Wells didn't invent the time-travel story, but his notion of building a time machine certainly popularised it, and it's this idea that's popped up repeatedly in popular culture ever since.

Safety Not Guaranteed is the latest film in that grand tradition, incorporating elements of the romance and longing in Richard Matheson's novel Bid Time Return (filmed as Somewhere In Time in 1980), and perhaps even a dash of the 1960 film adaptation of The Time Machine in its production design.

Safety Not Guaranteed's eclectic cast of characters each have their private regrets and fading dreams. Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) is an awkward 20-something who toils as an intern at the offices of Seattle Magazine. When arrogant, vain journalist Jeff (Jake M Johnson) decides to follow up a classified ad left in a local newspaper ("Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me... Safety not guaranteed"), Darius and another intern, the even more awkward Arnau (Karan Soni) are dragged along to help investigate.

Although Jeff's confident that the anonymous classified ad writer's just another deluded soul to write an amusing story about, Darius is more credulous. Following an address in the advert, the trio discover the mysterious writer: 30-something Kenneth (Mark Duplass), who drives a battered Datsun, wears a denim jacket, and takes his combat and survival training very, very seriously.

Jeff, less interested in the story and more intent on tracking down an old flame he's rediscovered on Facebook, believes his worst suspicions are confirmed. But Darius decides to do dig a little deeper, and in attempting to discover whether Kenneth's supposed time machine is real, finds herself increasingly drawn into the eccentric's private world.

Like recent indie sci-fi movies such as Monsters or Another Earth, Safety Not Guaranteed is driven by its quirky characters rather than genre conventions. Writer Derek Connolly gently peels back the layers of each persona, and reveals something vulnerable and essentially good in each. Even the sleazy Jeff is given added light and shade as the story winds on, and Jake Johnson's deceptively subtle treatment of his character's arc is sublime.

Karan Soni gets some of the script's very best lines (his reflection that Star Wars Stormtroopers are "blue collar workers" and would therefore know nothing of lasers is spectacularly written), and it's arguable that Arnau and Jeff are one of the most entertaining odd couples to grace a cinema screen all year.  

Aubrey Plaza, already well-known for her performance as April in Parks And Recreation, is superb in the lead role, and Safety Not Guaranteed is a great showcase for her talent. She has a particular way of holding the screen - a dry charisma that's filled with humour and quiet introspection. She and Mark Duplass have a strong chemistry, and the way their guarded personalities are gradually replaced by warmth and friendship is part of what makes the film so engaging.

Colin Trevorrow directs with surety, allowing the story to unfold at a leisurely yet absorbing pace. A little like the 2001 film K-Pax (based on the Gene Brewer novel of the same name), Kenneth's eccentricity adds a certain mystery element to the story - has he really built a time machine, or is he as odd as his obsessions imply?

More than a mystery or a sci-fi film, though, Safety Not Guaranteed is primarily a romance, shot through with plenty of wry comedy. Mainstream romances have often floundered in either saccharin or worldly cynicism, but Trevorrow and Connolly are unafraid to depict the frailties of their characters. Plaza and Duplass aren't your typical Hollywood leading couple, and all the better for it; their bittersweet childhood memories, the things in their past they desperately want to change, or hold onto, are things anyone can relate to - which is surely what we're all looking for in a good movie.

Anyone who keeps up with movie news will know that Safety Not Guaranteed has been a hit at movie festivals, and that its writer and director are planning a remake of another time-travel story, Flight Of The Navigator - Colin Trevorrow was even linked to the forthcoming Star Wars sequel at one point.

It's easy to see what the fuss is all about. Safety Not Guaranteed, on a relatively miniscule budget, is a lightweight yet effortlessly beguiling blending of genres. Its performances are touching, its dialogue sparkling, its lack of cynicism utterly refreshing.

Safety Not Guaranteed is out in UK cinemas on the 26th December.

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Saw it a couple of weeks ago - loved it.

5 stars agreed :-)

Uh oh you're going to get some angry customers when they expect to see a 5 star time travel movie and find an overly sentimental and mostly predictable 2 star affair.

Loved this Movie

I'd go with 4 stars, but I can't fault the review. At the end I genuinely wanted to whoop and punch the air, but couldn't decide if the audience at the Hilton would appreciate my vociferous support.

In my view Jake Johnson is the best thing in New Girl so he already has me sold on this.

Seen this twice now- a great warm glow you get for watching this. Uttery original. Utterly human.

I couldn't agree with you more. In my top three 2012 for sure.

Jake Johnson is the best thing in New Girl so he has already forced me to purchase the ticket.

Aubrey Plaza is a mixture of 90s Janeane Garofalo and Ellen Page.

Which is a good thing.

this movie had a great premise.....and then it went full hipster and just plained sucked. i will never watch or recommend this waste of bandwidth.

I saw this film in a festival (Sitges), is a remarkable indie flick, but I think the reactions of the critics had been too exaggerate, and I won't extend myself (spoilers). Five stars? I think that four is good enough.

For once, Ryan, I totally agree with you! ;) This is a really lovely film.

Have to say, I'm really surprised this has scored so highly in so many people's opinion.

The trailer really made it look pretty horrible.
I know, I know, trailers can be and often are wrong... so I guess I'll have to go and see it and find out for myself, but I'm warning you, if it's hipster rubbish with a lame 'eclectic' soundtrack and no grasp of science, I'll be back here and I'll be VERY VERY ANGRY.

Saw it a couple of weeks ago and it is now firmly in my "favourite movies" list for all the wrong reasons. I knew nothing about it at all and was impressed as a result. Sorry for talking it up here!

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