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Safety Not Guaranteed - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Safety Not Guaranteed
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A

Safety Not Guaranteed is a kind of movie that surprises you. It's immediately apparent that it has a low budget. There aren't any big stars. Things start off odd, in that almost-precious indie-film way. You get the sense that it's going to go the same way as too many such films, which are so often enamored with their own quirkiness. And then, somehow, it avoids all that.

The film is set in Western Washington. One of the things I liked most about it was that the scenes set in Seattle were actually filmed in Seattle -- clearly there wasn't the budget for filming in Vancouver, B.C. as a stand-in. This works in the movie's favor. Not only does it lend authenticity, but for local audiences anyway, it's nice to see that, for example, when characters are waiting at a bus stop, you can recognize the actual King County Metro bus stop sign.

Most of the characters work at Seattle Magazine. The idea for the story sprung from an actual classified ad that appeared in a local magazine (of a different name), by someone seeking a companion for time travel. Safety Not Guaranteed isn't the snappiest of film titles, but it's how the ad ended. The ad is the only true-story element of the film; the rest was sprung from that in the imagination of writer Derek Connolly, turning it into a solid story.

The Seattle Magazine editor is rejecting stupid and uninspired story pitches at a staff meeting when staff writer Jeff (New Girl's Jake M. Johnson) pitches a story on whoever placed the classified ad. Jeff decides to bring two interns with him. He's a bit of a douche and just refers to them as "the lesbian and the Indian." Only one descriptor is correct.

Both of the interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), nicely balance Jeff's dirtbag (his own term) persona, but in completely different ways. Aubrey, as it happens, is the central character here: she's who we're introduced to in the beginning, complete with mini-montage of her awkward childhood years. Plaza is a very pretty young woman, and it's often hard to believe beautiful actresses as awkward characters. But Plaza pulls it off with flying colors.

When this trio tracks down the guy who placed the ad in a small town on the coast, Jeff tries to introduce himself and immediately fucks it up. Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is an oddball at best, and he doesn't trust him. But when Darius approaches him, with her own distinct oddball sensibility, they connect. There's a great scene in the grocery store where Jeff works when Darius approaches him and asks about what kind of weapons they might sell. This is how she reveals her knowledge of the ad, and this is really where the movie turns a corner. It moves away from any potential cutesiness and toward an even mix of genuine sweetness and food for thought.

This is a very skillfully written script, as at first it's easy to assume Jeff is probably just a nutcase. But everything comes together in such a way at the end that clearly something more is going on. A key piece of this story, though, is that you never know if time travel has actually occurred. Really, you can make a conclusion either way, and the movie still works. That is a very rare feat.

Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass are lovely together, and so are their characters, in their mutual weirdness. And it's nice to see not just the main characters, but all the characters go through some kind of change -- Jeff reconnects with an old flame in the small town and finds something unexpected; Arnau lets Jeff rope him into some social scenarios a bit outside of his comfort zone. I'm not sure how they tie into the whole time-travel-guy thing, but I'm okay with that; they felt like separate but concurrent stories and yet they were all satisfying to watch. Perhaps most importantly, all this gets fit into a run time of only 86 minutes, and yet it's so well edited that it feels like the perfect amount of time.

If nothing else, the characters' respective experiences bring them closer to being believers by the end. The beautiful thing about Safety Not Guaranteed is that regardless of that, it still allows the audience to decide for themselves whether they are believers. Certainly something amazing occurs. Whether it's actual time travel is up for debate. Along the way there, we see scenes that could later be interpreted either as Kenneth's bizarre capacity for denial, or evidence of his having changed history. Which is it? It doesn't even matter -- what matters is that this is such a charmingly provocative little movie.

Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass get dangerous in SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.

Overall: A-
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