Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) Directed by Colin Trevorrow. With Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass and Jake Johnson.
A classified advert is placed in a local paper by a man who claims that he can travel through time. A city magazine enlists a trio of reporters to investigate with a view to writing a story for publication. That’s the outline for Colin Trevorrow’s independent film, Safety Not Guaranteed. A film that ultimately led to him getting the job as director of the upcoming 2015 blockbuster, Jurassic World.
In terms of scale, there’s nothing here to suggest that Trevorrow is the right man to reignite a stalled franchise. That said, he operates very well within the confines of the small scale. Written by Derek Connolly (also working on Jurassic World), the film has a very wistful quality, which doesn’t just stem from its characters and their own personal sadnesses, but also in the the use of music and photography. Like so many US indie films, it features that signature strum-along acoustic guitar soundtrack, coupled with shots of young attractive people looking melancholy. If it didn’t have more to it, it’d quickly sink under the weight of these elements; so familiar are they now to this type of fare.
The good news is, the writing allows a strong sense of character. The film is a few things. It’s a comedy, but it is also a romance. Quirky has almost become a negative word to describe something, but it is hard to escape when describing what is on offer here. The film is led by Aubrey Plaza, who as an intern working under Jake Johnson’s character, brings a sense of dry warmth and playfulness that makes her easy to get along with. In a sense, we the audience inhabit her character; inquisitively going along for the ride with a degree of unease at what might be at the end of the road.
The time-traveller of the tale is Mark Duplass’ Kenneth, an odd but interestingly funny character whose conviction in what he believes is hard to deny. Again, the quality of the writing affords a lot of subtle humour for the actors to play with. That said, the sub-plots involving Jake Johnson’s irritating character cause the occasional lull. The film descends to that worn cliché of one confident character going out of his way to get an under-confident character “laid”. Huge yawn.
Despite being dragged down by its sub-plots, the two central characters share some sweet and funny screen-time together. The final act always keeps you guessing and the end result is a film that can’t guarantee your complete entertainment, but is nevertheless safe enough to recommend. 3/5