Safety Not Guaranteed is a movie that is almost begging you to like it. It has a (harmless) oddball character, and is sprinkled with pixie dust, but all it elicited in me was my innate cynicism. It’s amiable and doesn’t suck, but it’s also ho-hum.
Written by Derek Connolly and directed by Colin Trevorrow, Safety Not Guaranteed is one of those indies that has the smell of Sundance, and sure enough, it won two prizes there. As per requirement of these sorts of things, it celebrates the quirky and denounces the ordinary, but without much sting. Even the two government agents in the film, representing bad, bad authority, are polite.
The film stars Aubrey Plaza as an intern at Seattle Magazine. We meet her during an interview for a job at a chain restaurant, where she reveals herself as antisocial and depressed. She’s basically playing the character she does on TV’s Parks and Recreation, but without the wit.
When a reporter at the magazine (Jake Johnson), pitches a story about a strange advertisement looking for a partner to go back in time, Plaza volunteers, and she is chosen, along with an extremely shy Indian-American (Karan Soni). The three head to a small coastal town to find the guy who placed the ad. The ad, which is based on a true story, is the funniest thing in the movie.
He turns out to be Kenneth, who lives in a ramshackle house in the woods. After rebuffing Johnson, Plaza finds that he trusts her, and she gets to know him and eventually like him. Kenneth is played by indie stalwart Mark Duplass, who does a nice job of keeping us in the dark on whether he is really crazy or not. Well, he is crazy, but just how crazy we don’t know.
As Duplass and Plaza have a sweet little romance, Johnson spends his time tracking down an old girlfriend while trying to get Soni laid. Both of these subplots are extraneous and ill-advised. Johson, in fact, is a drag on the movie, and he in no way acts like a reporter, and the scene in which he tells his old girlfriend that he’s changed is embarrassingly written and acted.
This might have made a nice short film, focusing just on Duplass and Plaza, but it isn’t. The notion of crazy people being the sanest among us has been batted around in movies since almost the beginning, and this film has nothing new to say about it. The visual style of Treverrow is TV sit-com.
My grade for Safety Not Guaranteed: C-.