“Safety Not Guaranteed” features a first time director, writer, star and co-star, and all of the above should take a long, extended bow.
Aubrey Plaza of “Parks and Recreation” fame stars as a magazine intern trying to wring a story out of one very delusional gent. Kenneth (indie film king Mark Duplass, in arguably his best acting role to date) places an ad seeking a time traveling partner in crime.
“Safety not guaranteed,” the ad warns.
It’s enough to convince Seattle Magazine to send Darius (Plaza), a nebbishy colleague (big screen newbie Karan Soni) and a cocky writer named Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) to find the person behind the ad.
Darius ends up winning Kenneth’s trust, and the two of them embark on a sorta-kinda rigorous training program to prepare for their time traveling adventures.
Kenneth is nuts, right? Right?
Darius can’t help feeling for the poor guy, while her colleagues stir up some trouble of their own in Kenneth’s humble town.
Director Colin Trevorrow juggles the obvious physical comedy with several blossoming relationships – the connection between Darius and Kenneth, Jeff’s reunion with an old flame and Jeff’s attempt to free Soni’s character from his sexless lifestyle. Soni, cast as the uber-nerd who chafes under Jeff’s tutelage, wins us over with his sly smile and eyes that take in more than his peers would care to admit.
Screenwriter Derek Connolly makes a few minor missteps – one involving a prosthetic ear that is both absurd and unnecessary – but otherwise maintains a winsome spirit that meshes beautifully with the story’s key mystery.
Plaza’s acting style is demure, with small gestures filling in only the vital blanks. She’s beautiful but bruised, a woman harboring her own reasons to give Kenneth a chance.
Duplass, who also served as executive producer, remains independent film’s iron man. Here, he proves once more his instincts are sound and that his eclectic tastes dovetail with storytelling essentials when given the chance.
“Safety Not Guaranteed” ends with a fist-pumping moment that doubles as a salute to a crew we’ll be hearing more from in the years to come.
The Blu-ray extras include a charming “making of” featurette breaking down the pain and pleasures of a modern indie filmmaking. The crew reveal the shortcuts necessary to complete the film, from using the day’s waning light to film a critical sequence to showing a key prop being hauled to the film’s set, traffic laws be damned.
That footage makes it clear “Safety Not Guaranteed” packs the kind of gonzo spirit missing in most movies.