Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Cinestudio Sunday review presents: “Safety Not Guaranteed”


 “WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.” This is the wanted ad that set director Colin Trevorrow’s brand-new, summer blockbuster “Safety Not Guaranteed” into motion. The film opens on Aubrey Plaza in the role of Darius, a young magazine intern characterized by the same aggressive aloofness that made audiences go crazy for April Ludgate, Plaza’s breakout role in NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.” Darius’ opportunity to ditch her oppressively dull home-life arrives when Jeff (Jake Johnson of “New Girl”) enlists her help to write a piece of investigative journalism based on the aforementioned wanted ad. The two, along with Darius’ fellow intern, Arnau (Karan Soni) hunt down the ad’s mysterious author, Kenneth (Mark Duplass of the Duplass brothers, two of the film’s executive producers), whom they discover is not only fully convinced that he can travel through time, but also believes that he and his top-secret technology are being surveyed by government agents. Darius, who reveals that she too has reasons to hope that time travel is possible, is eventually able to gain Kenneth’s trust, and he begins to train her in the delicate science of meddling with past events. Along the way, old flames are rekindled, new loves are discovered, complex love triangles are formed, and we learn that there is more to Kenneth and his mission than expected. Do they actually succeed in traveling back in time? I guarantee that the answer will be more complex than you think.

As a comedy, this film has its moments; occasionally – particularly with the character Arnau – writer Derek Connelly pulls off the awkward brand of indie humor that made films like Diablo Cody’s “Juno” so contagiously quotable. On the other hand, sometimes lines are weighted down with overly quirky phrasing. Plaza, known for her work in comedy, delivers in more or less the way one would expect. However, there is something special that she brings to the screen, which is bound to make her a fixture in plenty of upcoming features (look for her appearance in Whit Stillaman’s “Damsels in Distress” alongside Greta Gerwig and Adam Brody, coming to Cinestudio Sept. 16-18). Unlike the typical rom-com heroine, Plaza commits to her wry and deadpan delivery and never gushes, not even in the heavier scenes. Before you assume that Darius is just a carbon copy of April from “Parks and Rec,” note that on a few occasions, Plaza is able to display a surprising subtlety in her acting. For instance, there is a scene outside a motel where Darius receives some rather difficult news – look for the ever-so-slight glimmer in her eyes as she turns away and tell me you’re not charmed.

An unfortunate aspect of the film is that many of the questions it raises are left unanswered by the end. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the film remained tacit regarding the success of Kenneth and Darius’ mission; and not, I might add, in an intentionally ambiguous, decipher-it-for-yourself way. It was almost as if the filmmakers themselves had not worked out the fate of their characters. There is also a scene in which Darius confronts Kenneth’s old girlfriend (Kristen Bell) regarding his mental stability; this thread of the storyline is never satisfactorily pursued. Lastly, there is a robin’s egg-blue tin hidden in a secret location where Kenneth tells Darius to leave a note for their future selves in the event that their mission into the past goes awry. The tin reappears in the climactic end scene, which although charged with potential, sadly fails to shed any light on our heroes’ outcome.

All in all, “Safety Not Guaranteed” was a warm and fuzzy affair with a cast of perfectly loveable characters, a few good laughs, and an irresistibly cozy fireside musical number in which Mark Duplass accompanies himself on the zither. See it if you’re in the mood for a feel-good movie; just be wary of a few loose ends that may leave your intellect asking for more.

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