Safety Not Guaranteed
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Over the years, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) has learned to expect the worst. Upon first impression, she lacks an air of joviality or a zest for life. For someone so young, she looks unhappy, tired, and it appears as though she has given up on many things that should matter. Working as an intern for Seattle Magazine, it is no surprise when she quickly volunteers to cover a story that involves a man who put up an ad asking for people interested in going back in time with him. Darius considers it to be a win-win situation. If the person turns out to be crazy and article is a success, it might lead to a promotion. But if what is advertised is in fact a possibility, it will give her a chance to change her past.
While “Safety Not Guaranteed,” directed by Colin Trevorrow, is not short of ambition, it might have been a more complete and fulfilling experience by doing one of two things: to have no subplot and a shorter running time or to have a longer running time with a more fleshed out subplot. Instead, it sits somewhere in between: moving forward at a constant pace but not taking enough risks by embracing extremes. Our interest goes on autopilot after a while.
At least there is a semblance of freshness in the relationship between Darius and Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the man who claims to have successfully gone back to the past. What they have is complicated given that Darius choosing to acquaint herself with the guy is essentially rooted upon deception so she can get to know him well enough prior to writing the article.
Plaza is very good in conveying a certain level of toughness in Darius without letting go of her character’s amusing quirks and acerbic sarcasm. It is easier for a performer to reduce Darius to a stereotypical angry punk rocker given her penchant for eye liners, dark clothing, serious demeanor. Instead, the protagonist is played with some insight and is allowed to react like any other person when a handed a surprising turn of events. Throughout the course of her experience with Kenneth, the subtle changes in her challenge us to catch up to her thoughts which makes her intentions a little harder to categorize.
It is unfortunate that their possible romantic connection is interrupted by a subplot involving Jeff (Jake Johnson), Darius’ superior, wanting to reconnect so badly with a former one-time flame. Perhaps its point is to relay the idea that holding onto the past and, given the opportunity, changing it to meet a fantasy is like watching—and being entertained by—one person attempting to push a five-ton boulder up a mountain. While appropriate given the plot’s themes, there is nothing much to it and other the character being a source of amusement.
In other words, most of us already know why the past should remain the past. The screenplay does not bother to further question or explore the human condition of wishing things to be different than they are. It fails as an effective and involving subplot that runs parallel to the central relationship. Worse, on a more basic level, it interrupts the flow of what is brewing between Darius and Kenneth.
Another missed opportunity involves the second intern, Arnau (Karan Soni), so severely underused that he might as well not have been a part of the investigation. Although he is given three or four funny lines to say, we do not get a chance to get to know him as well as Darius or Jeff. Why have him there in the first place?
Written by Derek Connolly, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is smart to leave its ending open to interpretation, but it is not entirely enthralling experience because some key elements that lead up to that point are a struggle to sit through at times. For a movie about a possible time travel, I kept wishing it would fast forward through its more somniferous clichés.