June 12, 2012

MOVIES: Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow, 2012)

Wanted: Somebody 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.

That ad actually appeared in the classified section of a small magazine for outdoorsmen in the late 90s. It turned out to be a space-filler made up by the editor, but the movie Safety Not Guaranteed jumps off from the idea that the ad is real.

Jeff (Jake Johnson) is a reporter from Seattle Magazine who convinces his boss to let him investigate the ad, maybe get an interview with whoever placed it and find out what he's up to. He's sent off to rural Washington with two interns (Seattle Magazine must be doing better than most print mags these days), the timid Arnua (Karan Soni) and Darius (Aubrey Plaza), who is your standard indie film cooler-than-thou chick.
Jeff's attempt to contact Kenneth (Mark Duplass) goes very badly, so it's Darius who winds up applying for the job of time-travel sidekick, and she's just strange enough herself to be on Kenneth's eccentric wavelength. That sets up what looks like a fairly standard story -- are these two people going to fall in love, despite their mutual suspicion (and her fear that he may be a complete lunatic)?

But the movie takes odd twists along the way, and even in the moments when it winds up where you thought it would, it usually finds surprising ways to get there. There's a nice subplot involving Jeff and his old high-school sweetheart (meeting her again was the only reason he was really interested in the story to begin with), and some nice comedy involving the group attempt to help Arnau lose his virginity. (That's a plotline that often winds up getting really icky, and it stays surprisingly sweet here.)

The four principal performances are all fine, but it's the relationship between Plaza and Duplass that makes the movie work. By the time the movie takes its final twist, which just might be the most surprising of them all, you'll be hoping that time travel really does exist.

No comments: