Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

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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-.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

2 responses »

  1. Pretty much agreed. You’re especially right about Johnson’s character and subplots, which are very poorly handled.

    I’ll also add that I don’t think Plaza was cast very well. Even ignoring that her TV-sitcom schtick doesn’t wear well at feature leangth, her schtick isn’t appropriate for the material in the first place. Her attraction to Kenneth feels like Enid’s attraction to Seymour in Ghost World, i.e., based mostly on pity. But the makers of Ghost World were intelliegent and observant enough to know what they were dealing with, and I don’t think the makers of this film are. I think we’re actually supposed to feel that this is a feel-good quirky indie romance, but it’s really rather pathetic.

    The film’s not an especially tough sit, and it gets by on a pretty decent premise, but it’s also not made with any particular conviction or even sincerity.

  2. I thought this was marginally above average which was a pleasant surprise because the first 25 minutes I rather disliked, especially because of Plaza’s boss whose one-note obnoxiousness became tiresome quickly and her shy colleague seemed to be a character there just to be mocked by the film.

    But it had an interesting premise and got better as it got along. Plaza’s boss character became more interesting the longer the film went (although his behaviour in the finale didn’t quite convince) and I thought Duplass was very good in a difficult role – did a very fine balancing act between not being too crazy and not too natural.

    I admired the audacious nature of the finale although I don’t think the film was quite good enough beforehand to be completely satisfying. As JS inferred, this film can’t quite break out of being a Sundance cliche. And it never really gave Plaza’s intern colleague character a fair break; was he really needed in the film at all?

    As for Plaza, she was pretty good although it was hard to believe her as the film portrayed as incredibly anti-social and considered unattracive. If she had such major issues, how does she manage to be able to win over Duplass into her scheme?

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