SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED Review

It took several episodes of Parks and Rec for me to really take notice of Aubrey Plaza. Even as a passing fan of the show, I would usually check in before or after The Office to see what antics Aziz was up to or just to get a good quote from Ron Swanson to put on my facebook page. Still, the odd couple of Andy and April were hard to ignore even if I did get the ultra quirky Plaza confused with Rashida Jones from time to time. This is all to say that Plaza has earned her stripes, she has done the gutter work and has come out prepared for what seems like a nice little niche she will carve for herself in the Hollywood landscape. Where Zooey Deschanel is the ultra-happy quirk Plaza lays on the sarcastic hipster vibe over her brooding quirkiness (does that even make sense?) and allows the sarcasm to fly with a delightfully dull delivery. Plaza really won me over with her honest and very funny performance in the 2009 Judd Apatow dramedy Funny People. I enjoyed her self degredation and simple outlook, it made her more appealing than a pretty face who was trying too hard, but more importantly it made her stand out. As she makes her leap to leading lady she has chosen wisely not to get stuck playing the gothic looking best friend to the heroine in humorless romantic comedies, but instead takes the opportunity to demonstrate a love story that is likely closer to home even if it does fit the tool of time traveling into its tale. With Safety Not Guaranteed we have what is on the surface a lovely little indie film with an engaging premise and energetic performances. While this is all fine and good I can't say I wasn't a little bit disappointed that the final product didn't prove to be more than that.

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) finds herself in an odd situation
when she decides to investigate a self proclaimed
time-traveler.
Funny enough it was not the presence of Plaza that drew me into this film, though her performance is certainly what will stick with you afterwards, but instead it was the odd premise mixed with the earnest approach that was appealing. With a story that has to deal with the investigation of an idealistic grocery store worker who claims to have the knowledge to travel through time you have to at least step back with intrigue and wonder what they're going to do to pull this off, what direction they are going to take it in. While the story turns out to be one of those cases where the promise, the initial idea was just too good to ever qualify for a satisfactory ending this minor let down is made up by the stellar comedic cast that conveys this limited but ambitious story. We are introduced to Darius (Plaza) in the first moments of the film as she seemingly explains to us her life story and her now casual state of constant pessimism. The movies first laugh comes from the fact she is over-explaining this life story to a manager of a restaurant that is looking to hire someone. The moment, though small, is effective in that it tells us everything we need to know about Darius. Not just in the words she spouts but in her demeanor and the fact she would even be inclined to spill as much as she does. As an intern at a local magazine in Seattle she has come to feel sorry for herself more than she might have in the past. No matter if this is for good reason it is important at first that we engage with this character while still doubting her to come successfully to terms with what we know she will be encountering. When Jeff, a senior writer at the magazine played with smarmy charisma by Jake M. Johnson (New Girl) proposes a story from an ad placed in the paper about a man needing a partner to travel back in time Darius volunteers to tag along.

Darius, Arnau (Karan Soni) and Jeff (Jake M. Johnson)
spy on the subject of their story.
Turns out once Darius, Jeff, and another intern Arnau (Karan Soni) get to the small, ocean town where the mystery time traveler resides that Jeff is only interested in hooking up with an old flame. This leaves Darius to investigate the man who placed the ad. In finally coming into contact with what would no doubt be the most interesting character actor Mark Duplass infuses Kenneth, an odd man who does truly seem to believe he can go back in time, with a real honesty. It would have been easy, too easy in fact, to make Kenneth more of a caricature from some long forgotten, bad sci-fi flick, but instead Duplass gives an earnest showing as a guy who in one sense wants to think he has everything under control but is equally lost. Now, we can guess where this is all likely heading in that the most important part of all this is not the fact of if Kenneth can actually time travel or not, but instead what matters will be the reasons one would want to time travel. It is easy to assume this will serve as a metaphor to the life we all lead and how each of our encounters in life should be taken to maybe mean something more. This is perfectly fine, it touches many emotions and some of the dialogue is so pinpoint on its ability to relate to everyone while feeling extremely personal . The film, in all its craftiness re enforces these points of lost time and the meaningless extras of life through that subplot of Jeff and his long lost hook up buddy. These themes of hope and longing are all explored with equal vigor as we watch what is missing in Kenneth's life be fulfilled through what Darius has brought into it and vice versa. This is where the magic of Plaza comes into play. Through her performance we are able to understand that Kenneth is not just weird or off-kilter but a real human being who despite the issues he may be dealing with, understands how others see him and can see through those who are not as genuine as he.

Darius and Kenneth (Mark Duplass) meet to discuss their
training in preparation for going back in time.
By the end of the film you likely won't care if Kenneth can actually time travel or not, but the way the script levels its absurdity, its whimsical flights with that of the evaluation of the human condition is what will win you over. It doesn't hurt that the film does indeed come to a great emotional payoff at the end, but more than that it is really kind of inspiring. How I felt throughout the viewing though was a hope that the film would continue to exceed where I expected it to go. In this regard I was slightly let down because no matter how genuine the characters come off we can see where their journey will likely take them. I wanted the journey of the story to be as unpredictable and real as the characters I felt like I was watching. While there are plenty of scenes that address the mystery surrounding Kenneth's motives and the confusion over whether this guy is for real or if he is just a loon, we don't care because we come to engage him as a person, what is left to care about is the side of him that we come to hope doesn't actually exist. We grow so close to Kenneth as Darius does and we almost forget his agenda. This left me with feelings of wanting to know more of his backstory, what truly led to this point in his life and why, really why he needs to do what he is doing. As great a final scene as this film has I wanted more from it. It wasn't the best movie I've seen this year and I prefer the other indie time traveler Sound of My Voice over this one, but as a contradicting, comedic piece of work to this succeeds in too many ways to point out the bad things. Safety Not Guaranteed is all about connection and in its most basic storytelling elements it connected with me. I guess that really is all that matters.