Wednesday, 17 October 2012
FILM REVIEW: SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
Ever since the publication of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (in 1895), we humans have been fascinated with the idea of time travel. Not so much the technical aspects of its possibility but where one might go and do were we indeed able to travel through time: into the past to walk with the dinosaurs or into the future to witness mankind colonising Mars? To meet historical figures in their prime, or behold empires at their peak?
So when an advert appears in a small town newspaper calling for potential time travel companions - bring your own weapons, safety not guaranteed - it's completely understandable that it should pique the interest of Seattle magazine writer, Jeff (Jake Johnson).
But given Jeff is also a cynic and, well, a jerk, the advert also tickles his funny bone. He's intrigued to know what kind of nut job would post such an advert and if they are for real, and enlists two interns - "the Indian and the lesbian" - to accompany him on a road trip to suss it out.
The "Indian" is Arnau (Karan Soni), a softly-spoken engineering major who is only interning at a magazine because a diversity of interests looks good on job applications.
And the "Lesbian" isn't a lesbian at all (not that there's anything wrong with that). Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a droll young woman who is at odds with the world. Believing herself to be smarter than most people (certainly Jeff), her detachment owes as much to her mother's death when Darius was just a teen as it does with the world's general sucky-ness.
But it is Darius who becomes the lynch pin in Jeff's investigation. After the writer makes a first bad impression on Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the poster of the advert, Darius believes she has a better chance of winning the trust of the supermarket employee; questioning the oddly appealing man with the oddly coloured ear about his calibrations.
In no time at all, Kenneth has Darius doing practise drills, with and without a hand gun, even breaking into a local medical facility, and divulging all manner of techno-babble about time travel and what is required for the mission but never what the actual mission is. Just as it is with Darius, you sense there is pain and loss at the core of Kenneth's plight.
And Plaza and Duplass make for a winning combination; his wide-eyed optimism slowly wearing her resistance down and winning over her over.
Meanwhile, Jeff is keen to drop in on a former adolescent flame with whom he enjoyed a summer romance, dismayed to find that time hasn't been kind to the blonde 16-year-old who has resided in his memory for some 15-odd years.
Jeff also encourages Arnau to take advantage of his youth, making it his mission to get the virgin laid: you're only 22 once and you never get the same opportunities again.
Safety Not Guaranteed isn't a film about time travel so much as a film about time: regretting it, hoping against hope to correct it, and more importantly, embracing it.
Director Colin Trevorrow, and screenwriter, Derek Connolly (who based his story on an actual advert, placed as a filler by a magazine employee), know that regret stings and we'd all like to go back in time, have a shot at a do-over, to makes things different if not necessarily right.
That notion, along with the performances of Plaza and Duplass, add poignancy to this small but big-hearted comedy. Make the time to see it.