Not a Delorean or Oedipus complex in sight in this cute time travel comedy.
We live in a world where geeks are firmly chic. Joss Whedon is championing them with Avengers Assemble and Cabin In The Woods. TV is lending them support via The Big Bang Theory. You need only walk down any trendy street in the world to see someone sporting thick-rimmed geek glasses,skinny jeans and a pastel scarf. So Safety Not Guaranteed is a timely (pun intended) comedy that deals with how people define themselves by what period their lives meant the most to them.
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) knows the only time she was happy was in her childhood years when her parents were together. Broke and working as an intern at a local magazine she is pretty miserable. So when journalist Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) finds a classified ad looking for a partner to travel back in time with, Darius agrees to accompany Jeff and reclusive intern Arnau (Karan Soni) to find out if the advert is genuine. Tracking the advert to a PO box in a sleepy seaside town it becomes clear that Jeff is more interested in rekindling an old romance, so Darius takes it upon herself to track down and meet the time traveler; local inventor Kenneth (Mumblecore poster boy Mark Duplass). At first he seems nothing more than a harmless oddball but Darius soon bonds with him and begins to wonder, amongst all the sinister government agents sniffing around, if Kenneth has in fact mastered time travel.
Hollywood has a habit of coming up with similar themed ideas all at once. Think Dante’s Peak and Volcano, Deep Impact and Armageddon or A Bug’s Life and Antz. It seems the indie side of cinema is now going the same way. For while Safety Not Guaranteed sounds like a fresh take on the time travel genre, earlier this year we saw Sound Of My Voice, written by and starringAnother Earth’s Brit Marling, a very different, more thoughtful, take on journalists investigating a mysterious time traveler. Safety Not Guaranteed however is firmly aiming for light-hearted comedy drama over thought-provoking sci-fi.
While Darius mopes around Jeff gets all the zingy one-liners, often at the expense of Arnau, which paints a smile on your face for most of the running time. But more than anything Safety deals in nostalgia and our relationship with time. Jeff looks to the past as something he can’t recapture until he begins to realise that living in the past gets you no where. Arnau is terrified of the present lest it jeopardise his future. Darius meanwhile soon learns that the only way she can be happy is by living for the moment and taking chances, something Kenneth allows her to do.
In other words the sci-fi is irrelevant here. Character is everything and there is no end to the levels which writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow will go to make you fall firmly in love with them all. Jeff, played with gusto byNew Girl’s Johnson, hooks you in by being the cocky know-it-all, before succumbing to his own ideals and trying to live vicariously through a timid Arnau. Darius meanwhile is that kooky girl who sits in the school library listening to Nirvana. You know, the kind of girl you pretend not to fancy because she isn’t classically ‘beautiful’ but you secretly want to get with. Aubrey Plaza, best known for her work on Parks And Recreation, plays the part with just enough dry sarcasm to prepare you for her inevitable thawing towards the end of the movie. Though it’s never explained why she has a man’s first name. Meanwhile Kenneth is the most honest character on offer, although one who’s certainly lying to himself. Played with sad-sack frivolity by Duplass, he resembles a depressed Jason Segal, without the jovial Muppets to keep him company.
While the film runs out of ideas towards the final act, for the most part Safety Not Guaranteed is a quirky and cute story. You won’t cry or laugh out loud but you’ll chuckle in a ‘that’s how I feel’ kind of way. It’s not Back To The Future but it’s original and smart enough to keep even the toughest of viewers flux-capacitor flowing. Enjoyment is guaranteed.