Inspired by a joke ad included in a rural-living magazine, Safety Not Guaranteed tells the story of Darius Britt, a girl eager to be successful but lacking in social skills, and Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass), a potential time traveller and secret subject of Darius’ magazine article.
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) leads a mundane life, living with her father, having no friends to speak of and interning for free at a magazine company where she is berated and belittled.
Clearly in desperate need for a change of pace, she finds one in an assignment headed by magazine writer Jeff (Jake Johnson), and they go in search of the author of a newspaper advertisement wanting a partner to travel back in time with.
The author turns out to be the mysterious and peculiar Kenneth, who’s life mission it is to build a time machine and travel back for initially unknown reasons. Darius eagerly offers to secretly research Kenneth by applying for the time travelling partner position but quickly finds herself warming to his quirky nature, finding a kindred spirit in the lovable loner.
Aubrey Plaza, best known for her comical acting (Parks and Recreation, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) takes on a more serious, heartfelt role as Darius, leaving the bizarre for the bashful.
Those who are familiar with her work may be surprised by the drastic change of tone in her performance but Safety Not Guaranteed gives a refreshing example of her versatility as an actress. It is, in fact, the actors that bring this film to life with Jake Johnson of ‘New Girl’ fame bringing his charm and wit and Mark Duplass giving an anxious yet endearing performance as Kenneth.
The story, however, sometimes feels confused and unsure of itself, seemingly getting lost in a need to distance itself from the clichéd rom-com. With characters acting out for no real reason, an ambiguous underlying message and with questions left unanswered, the film may be seen as falling flat – or in a more positive light, being left open to interpretation. In some respects it needs to be analysed with a glass half empty/glass half full approach, and the ending of the film allows the viewer to decipher whether they are a pessimist or optimist.
With its naturalistic, awkward dialogue and semi-famous actors, Safety Not Guaranteed can easily be categorised in the newly established “mumblecore” genre of American indie cinema (The Exploding Girl, Tiny Furniture). This is appealing if you’ve grown tired of the overdone and cliched, as the realistic conversations and characters in the film are very refreshing to witness. What is undeniable is the warm performances given by actors who have taken a lot of time and effort to give these characters depth and personality.
Safety Not Guaranteed is a film that tells a slightly bewildering but truly heartfelt story, by the end of which you may just go out and build a time machine of your own, place a small ad in a newspaper and wait patiently for an adventure.