“WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”
How many newspaper ads offer a trip like this? Not many. From the producers of “Little Miss Sunshine” comes an equally quirky indie film. With its wonderfully developed characters, backed by passionate performances and a winding journey of a story, “Safety Not Guaranteed” invites the audience to discover the greatest trip of all.
Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a magazine intern, is trying to make her way through life despite her own anxieties. Meanwhile, a senior writer, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), pitches an idea for a fluff piece — an interview with the writer of a silly but cryptic newspaper advertisement asking for a partner to join a time-traveling adventure.
Jeff takes Darius and shy intern Arnau (Karan Soni) to track down the ad writer, which unfolds into a wild adventure that leads them to Kenneth (Mark Duplass), an eccentric grocery clerk who speaks frankly about the quantum mechanics of time travel and believes the government is after him.
Writer Derek Connolly displays fresh talent in “Safety Not Guaranteed,” his first writing job for a full-length motion picture. The movie hardly has a dull moment as the story teases audiences with its gradually unfolding mysteries.
Mechanical blueprints and offbeat training sessions between Darius and Kenneth on karate and firearms, in preparation for a potentially dangerous time-travelling journey, keep everyone guessing at the authenticity of Kenneth’s time-travel claims. But even more important than the legitimacy of time travel are the stories of the characters’ pasts. Kenneth gradually reveals a heart-shaking depth behind his strangeness, a depth that is hinted at frequently with the movie’s strong theme of control and overcoming the past.
In addition to its compelling story, the movie also serves as a sweet, authentic romance. A strong on-screen chemistry exists not only in a rekindled affair between Jeff and his high school sweetheart, but also between Kenneth and Darius. Their dialogue and interactions show a clear evolution from mutual apprehension to joy and intimacy. Their comic initial conversation serves as a fine example of their performances as the two size each other up with talk about how prepared they are to face the supposed dangers of time travel.
The writing behind the characters enhances their personalities and their overall presence. The dialogue holds a sharp edge of realism and quirkiness, such as a grim Darius joking about how all the “cool stuff,” such as Aztec human sacrifice, has already happened. However, the characters’ very human vulnerabilities and weaknesses make them all the more relatable.
Almost all of the lead characters in some way show a desire for companionship or overcoming the ghosts of their past. Jeff’s intention to see an old high school fling during the trip, or Kenneth’s longing to travel back in time to fix something about his past, represent themes of nostalgia and coming of age.
Director Colin Trevorrow enforces these scenes in the gorgeous sets and shots. Kenneth’s secret spot near a rusted old truck deep in well-lit woods evokes a sense of age and memory to correlate with stories of Kenneth’s childhood.
Though the film has many funny and delightful moments, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is not to be taken as a full-fledged comedy. The realistic dialogue includes many funny lines, cheeky car chases and raids on a science facility, but these moments are an accessory to a very somber yet uplifting film.
The winding pathways of life and the longing for a happier past are reflected beautifully in “Safety Not Guaranteed.” The wonderful cast and excellent writing make “Safety Not Guaranteed” a fine example of blissful movie magic.
Overall rating: 4 Stars
This film takes audiences on a wild ride when two people search for the writer of a mysterious newspaper ad involving time travel.