Since the popularity of Juno (2008) propelled the quirky indie genre into the mainstream, there has been a difficult distinction between truly original and merely mediocre. Many films cranked out by the ‘indie’ factory claim imagination, but instead are reproductions of the same “weird is the new cute” formula (cough, Zooey Deschanel, cough), which purely cause an oversupply of Manic Pixie Dream Girls who teach faux-hipster boys that all girls need to be loved is a Smiths mix tape and left-over teenage angst.
Diane Keaton did it best in Annie Hall (1977); however, and I declare this with upmost sincerity, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), is a truly unique endeavor by director Colin Trevorrow. Darius (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation) is a college graduate/magazine intern with a difficult past. The magazine receives an advertisement reading “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.”
One of the magazine’s writers, Jeff (Jake Johnson, New Girl) suggests investigating the story. Jeff brings along Darius and another intern Arnau (Karan Soni) to do the actual work, while he searches for an old high school love. Darius, who herself is extremely curious about the ad, meets the supposed time-traveler Kenneth (Mark Duplass, The Mindy Project), and is immediately fascinated by him. The film follows Darius as she tries to determine what is true; with Kenneth, with time-traveling, and with her own future.
This movie is truly fascinating in so many layers. There is enough going on throughout the entire film to keep you entertained; no minute is unnecessary, and every minute is spectacular. The acting is solid and understated – I really appreciated how the entire cast seemed to step back from trying to make a big deal of their own performances, so that the film as a whole could succeed.
I admit, I am a total fan girl of Aubrey Plaza. Not many pretty girls can successfully pull off deadpan, but Plaza does it so fantastically; she is the anchor that keeps the bizarre happenings throughout the film grounded in a hilariously sardonic reality. Jake Johnson, although I am not familiar with his television talent, pulls off raging-douchebag-with-secret-deep-emotions extraordinarily well. Mark Duplass is just plain cute as a crazy guy obsessed with martial arts and science fiction.
I was wary of underground references and burger-phones at the beginning of the film, and save for a scene where every character is wearing horn-rimmed glasses (an apparent requirement for all indie films), the dialogue was extremely natural and genuine. The screenwriter, Derek Connolly, realized a clever script does not equal a gratingly hipster script. I was thankful that this film was not part of the contest to cram as many 90s TV show references or underground bands as possible into two hours.
Safety Not Guaranteed is like the perfect girlfriend (or boyfriend, because duh): laid-back, intelligent, unique, and the perfect balance of exciting and insightful. I’m not the kind of person that tries to guess the plot before the film is over, but I can say that this one had interesting twists that were unexpected and refreshing. I’m also the kind of person that is really discriminatory with movies, and I am so glad that I was not disappointed with this one. The movie depicts an ambitious adventure, and the viewing experience itself was a fantastic and whimsical journey.