‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ Movie Review – Why Do We Time Travel?
Time travel is something EVERYBODY wants to do, we don’t need the movies to tell us that. I don’t know about you, but there are hundreds of past things I’d love to experience. However, sometimes movies (or stories) can pose a better question: why do we want to time travel? Not only this, but why look to the past when we have the future to look forward to? Safety Not Guaranteed doesn’t just ask the questions, but it makes you ponder them with its seemingly light and funny set-up. On the surface, the film looks like a sci-fi comedy, but there is plenty going on below the surface. I was able to catch the film as part of the 38th Seattle International Film Festival, but lucky for you, it’s opening in a wider release this weekend.
Based on the famous magazine classified ad in a 1997 issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, Safety Not Guaranteed is about the search for a seemingly “crazy” guy – named Kenneth (Mark Duplass) – who is looking for someone to time travel with him. Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), a higher-up for the magazine, takes two interns to investigate the time travel ad. Originally out to exploit his lunacy, the team starts to realize he’s not the person they assumed he was.
Darius (Aubrey Plaza), one of the interns, plays the cynical/pessimistic understudy, who doesn’t actually like much about her life. She’s stuck in an internship she doesn’t care about, surrounded by people she doesn’t particularly care for. Arnau (Karan Soni), the other intern, is pretty much the exact opposite, being a smart college nerd looking for experience to make him more marketable.
The extremes are what makes this film work so well. Each character is so different, yet still believable, to make them all learn from each other. Usually when movies attempt this, there are certain “bad guys” that learn from the “good guys.” However, Safety Not Guaranteed doesn’t judge their characters on good or bad. No, they all are essential to each other, meaning even if one character is flawed, it’s okay because it helps the others self-realize. It’s a bit philosophical, but I’m trying hard not to ruin who does what to who.
For being anchored by time travel, it’s hardly a sci-fi film. It’s part sci-fi, yes, but it’s definitely more of a coming-of-age, character comedy. I hate to say it’s a coming-of-age movie, but the four main characters have so much growth, making it difficult to explain otherwise.
You can’t create great characters without a great film team. Colin Trevorrow, the director, got just the right amount of star power to mainstream the story. The person that deserves the most recognition, though, is up-and-coming writer Derek Connolly. With just one TV movie under his belt, Connolly’s script should propel him into future opportunities. Trevorrow uses the material well, the actors are all great, but Connolly is the real all-star. He crafted a story essentially about a guy who got his fifteen minutes of fame fifteen years ago.
One quick note on the cast, I was amazed at the chemistry between all of them. Plaza’s (moderately) famous deadpan style perfectly mixed with Duplass’ quirkiness. Johnson is essentially a more successful version of his New Girl character, but that is not a bad thing at all. Newcomer Soni shares a deadpan style, but he’s surprisingly dramatic, too.
I was really afraid of what the conclusion would bring. Safety Not Guaranteed looked like a fun project, but it definitely looked like a movie that could struggle with a powerful conclusion. Luckily, it doesn’t attempt to sew up every story. This doesn’t mean there are loose ends either!
So, why do we time travel? Trevorrow’s film addresses this in a beautifully constructed, character-driven narrative that pushes the sci-fi to the back and the character drama to the front. All the while it maintains a consistently funny atmosphere. The movie is great all around.