Saturday, October 20, 2012

Quick Cuts: "Safety Not Guaranteed" Movie Review by Alex Schopp

Release: 2012
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Written By: Derek Connolly
Actors: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni
Rated: R
Run Time: 86 min

As a brisk and quirky 86-minute sci-fi/romantic comedy of sorts, "Safety Not Guaranteed" follows the lives of two unorthodox and unconventional souls as they inspire each other and finally let their guards down enough to let the other in. The film moves to its own beat, but the writing is fresh enough and the performances by both Plaza and Duplass are focused enough that the film is able to eloquently balance the fantastical elements with the personal ones. I imagine this film works much better for some of the younger audience (I'm thinking 16-24 age range), but at less than an hour and a half in length, there's enough here for everyone to get some value.

Darius (Plaza), Jeff (Johnson) and Arnau (Soni) work for a cynical Seattle magazine that happens across an unusual classified ad, wanting to dig into the story behind it. When they track down the source, they discover a mysterious and eccentric man named Kenneth (Duplass) who is likable but paranoid. He believes he's solved the riddle of time travel and intends to depart soon, only looking for an assistant to help him prep and accompany him on his journey (the ad). As Darius infiltrates Kenneth's space, posing as a respondent to the ad, she slowly starts to see that there might be more to him than everyone thinks. Together, they embark on a comedic, heartfelt journey that shows just how far a belief in someone else can take both of you.

The film plays very fast, never taking much time to settle on any particular moment. That isn't to say the film is fast-paced, because it is not, but it makes efficient use of its time, and does feel like it's making progress towards its conclusion with every scene. While I'm always down for more character development and interaction, the brisk nature of this picture played well into the snappy writing contained in it. Duplass and Plaza play odd characters, both of which I am fairly unable to relate to. But that's the point, as that's the same thing they're both struggling with in the film.

The film has a unique setup in that you think the entire time that this man, Kenneth, is a weirdo, who is out of his mind. But he's also sweet and honest enough to make you want to believe in him. The formula works well here, as we're building up more and more to the final scene of the film, where we'll truly discover whether there's any merit to any of Kenneth's plans; a climax that while it isn't flashy, is effective enough to make the journey that much more satisfying.

The supporting characters of Jeff and Arnau were great additions to the film (maybe my favorite aspects), as they went on their own small journeys while Darius is with Kenneth. Jeff is an emotionless editor, just looking for the next big story or paycheck. Taking two interns on this job along with him, he plans to use the trip as a vacation of sorts and track down a previous girlfriend he's still interested in - there's actually a really great scene when he's sitting down with her and starts boasting about his high-paying job, his new Escalade, the fancy apartment he has, the various women he's been with, etc. The woman blankly nods to seem interested in these stats, but then asked him about his life and how he's been. He pauses confusedly for a moment and says, "I just did..". Even though it's nothing new, I love the message here so much. He thinks these things define him, and they're all he has to describe himself. She couldn't care less about any of them. Knowing some people in my life that use things like this to judge milestones and accomplishments in their own lives, it's always refreshing to me when I see something against that standard.

As for Jeff though, the character actually still "redeems" himself by the end of the film, looking out for the more awkward intern, Arnau. They develop an odd bond, and with Jeff's help, Arnau breaks free from some of his hang-ups and fears and learns to be his own man. I really liked seeing Jeff become something better than what he was and do something for someone that could use his help; someone who might consider him a mentor. It was nice to see him kind of eventually get over his own hang-ups.

Overall, the film is very offbeat and quirky, but it works. The Watchability isn't incredibly high simply for my disconnect with these characters. While I get their relationship and am happy to see them grow together, they're both just too weird for me to watch much more. For one viewing though, I enjoyed this, and it was a refreshing take on the romantic comedy genre. Mixing in small amounts of sci-fi elements helped too, and my belief is you can never have enough sci-fi (did I just make this up?). At under an hour and a half, I can't see this being too much of a burden to your viewing life, so I'd approach this with ease. I can envision many audiences loving this much more than I did - and I think it would be deserving of such - but for many, this will just be a unique take on the rom-com idea, with plenty of flawed and fascinating characters just trying to find their way in the world. It works and it's an enjoyable ride.