June 25, 2012

Review: 'Safety Not Guaranteed' – Time Travelling is No Joke

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. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

Safety Not Guaranteed is not your average time travel movie. Describing it is easy enough. It's about a man, a quirky man, who believes he can travel back in time. He posts an ad in a local classified to find a partner. What happens when someone answers the ad is where the fun begins.

This independent comedy is refreshing in its pace and structure. The offbeat premise is unpretentious in execution. It serves as an excuse to explore interesting relationship dynamics. Based on a real classified ad, this highly fictional time travel comedy eschews most of the usual quirkiness for small touches, character interactions, and surprisingly emotional impact.

Aubrey Plaza (Funny People, Parks and Recreation) stars as a lonely, acerbic, disaffected magazine intern investigating the motives behind the aforementioned ad for a time travel partner. Actor/filmmaker Mark Duplass plays the strange yet earnest wannabe time traveller perpetually dressed like Marty McFly. Jake Johnson (New Girl) plays Plaza's boss with his own agenda, trying to revisit lost love and recapture his youth.

The slacker comedy is full of interesting, nuanced characters who are unsatisfied with their lives searching for ways to fix themselves. The film subverts its own romantic comedy elements unexpectedly well with time travel hijinks. Made by first time director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly, the oddball nature combines road trip and buddy comedy elements amusingly.

The way the filmmakers handle whether Duplass' character is for real and how any time travel will work is surprisingly effective. It even addresses the current generation of cynical, sardonic youth unwilling to believe or buy into whimsy or sentimentality without being annoying. It's refreshing how the actors and filmmakers form a cohesive story weaved with humorous scenes and interaction between characters.

Safety Not Guaranteed is such a sweet, charming film, more so than it has any right to be. Slowly the film reveals itself and addresses every aspect of the plot wrapping up in a "surprisingly ambitious finale". Its touching, identifiable performances by Plaza, Duplass, and Johnson shine through the limited premise to produce a wholly cinematic experience.

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