Safety Not Guaranteed

July 9, 2012

in Movies

Film (2012)
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Written by Derek Connolly

Kendall Square Cinema
Cambridge, MA

With Aubrey Plaza (Darius), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Bridget), Jake M. Johnson (Jeff), Karan Soni (Arnau), Jeff Garlin (Mr. Britt), Mark Duplass (Kenneth)

Aubrey Plaza as Darius and Mark Duplass as Kenneth

Aubrey Plaza as Darius and Mark Duplass as Kenneth

A sweet romantic comedy about vulnerable fringe misfits, with a touch of Back To The Future and The Time Machine thrown in.

Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a woman in her early twenties, is out of place in the world, and out of sorts. As the film opens, she interviews candidly for a job, and her riveting honesty elicits a rejection.

She is, meanwhile, an unpaid intern at an independent Seattle newspaper.

As part of her work she gets enlisted to take part in a road trip, with her immediate reportorial boss, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), and another intern, Arnau (Karan Soni). They are to follow up a strange personal ad from the paper looking for a companion to travel into the past, also indicating emphatically, Safety Not Guaranteed.

Jeff and the two interns take off to track down, and do a story on, the author.

The boss, Jeff, however, is really interested in looking up an old girlfriend who lives in the same town. He soon focuses on that adventure while Darius takes a more direct role in engaging the time travel guy.

It turns out that a grocery store clerk, Kenneth (Mark Duplass), is the source of that ad and he is a very strange guy indeed. While Jeff gets backrubs and eats nice meals with his old girlfriend, Darius gets to know Kenneth and to gain his confidence.

Aubrey Plaza as Darius

Aubrey Plaza as Darius

Along for the journalistic ride, Arnau is constantly subject to taunts and urgings from Jeff to have his sexual virginity broken by some wild adventure or another.

With vulnerability on her sleeve, the relationship between Darius and Kenneth develops, even though she thinks he is quite crazy. The adventure builds, as government agents join the chase, to a climax that departs from the temporally placid domesticated drama operating through the bulk of the film.

Mark Duplass was an adorable schlub in Your Sister’s Sister and here he is an adorable nut. He has strong good looks here, but the scads of apparent psychological vulnerabilities make that almost Marlboro Man exterior seem beside the point.

Aubrey Plaza’s Darius conveys a real magnetic charm. Plaza plays hurt but strong particularly well, and her way of conveying Darius’ growing attraction to Kenneth’s shaky and vulnerable determination makes it all seem believable.

Mark Duplass as Kenneth

Mark Duplass as Kenneth

The Dionysiac frolic fronted by Jeff is kind of out there and a bit ridiculous in the extreme, but Jake M. Johnson, conveying flashy and lurid confidence, is convincing enough in the part. It provides a good foil for the sullen craziness that Kenneth represents and the pained intelligence borne by Darius.

The big boss, Bridget, is played by Mary Lynn Rajskub, who had a long-running role as Chloe, the wacky computer whiz, on the TV thriller on Fox, 24. There she played an Asberger’s type with a heart of gold. Here she is a kind of Devil Wears Prada queen bee. It is great to see her strut her stuff in a new venue and convey a totally different character competently.

The shift at the end into science fiction mode is a striking departure from the general tone of the movie. I am not sure it works overall, but it offers a kind of transcendent charm.

Without it, the psychological dramas might easily have been just as good. But the writers’ challenge to provide a satisfying denouement without its temporal twist would have required a kind of magic that even those hovering images from The Time Machine and Back To The Future could not competitively conjure up.

– BADMan

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