Safety Not Guaranteed raises low-key and worthwhile questions | Film Review | Indy Week
Pin It

Safety Not Guaranteed raises low-key and worthwhile questions 

Now playing

Aubrey Plaza and timepieces in the time-travel tale "Safety Not Guaranteed"

Photo courtesy of Filmdistrict and Big Beach

Aubrey Plaza and timepieces in the time-travel tale "Safety Not Guaranteed"

Safety Not Guaranteed is low-key and worthwhile, and it raises some low-key and worthwhile questions. Can someone who is very serious about something laughably eccentric be treated with respect? How far can a movie dissociate itself from its plot's reason for existing and remain honest? How optimistic should we be about a movie based on a 2005 Internet meme?

Director Colin Trevorrow's big-screen debut follows a magazine intern named Darius (Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza) who gets roped into a lighthearted, potentially mean-spirited story investigating the person behind a personal ad looking for "Someone to go back in time with me."

"This is not a joke," warns the ad, and the movie plays with the veracity of this statement, setting itself up to be likable by following characters who set out to do something a little bit nasty but begin to change their approach as they warm to their subject. At first, the movie seems to be going along with the nastiness, but it takes a turn toward friendliness along with its characters. Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly aren't aggressive about it, but pretending to be mean when you're actually nice and harmless is a little cheap. The movie's sense of place feels far more genuine—the little streets between houses in this small northwestern town, the dusty grocery story, the constant dampness.

The collection of characters in Safety Not Guaranteed make up a ragtag bunch with familiar, spelled-out motivations. Darius wants to atone for the unappreciative attitude she had toward her mom. Arnau (Karan Soni), her fellow intern, wants to hook up with Darius. Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the guy who placed the ad, wants to be taken seriously. Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), the staff writer who pitched the story, wants to hook up with his high-school ex. (He's doing a sort of time traveling of his own, though he's too thick to see the irony.) The movie is unabashedly easy to understand and easy to watch.

As the tone gets warmer and everyone becomes a better person, it also feels good to watch, but it would probably be more honest if Darius weren't so quick to let down her guard around Kenneth. He wins her over because, even though he might be crazy, he's genuine. This gives the snarky Plaza a chance to thaw, which she's good at. But she's so prickly to begin with that she has nowhere to go but more cuddly. Again, it's a little cheap. Kenneth's a paranoiac who has trouble trusting anyone, and even though his conditions for accepting another person come from his (probably) delusional view of the world, Darius is still flattered when he confides in her.

But is Kenneth delusional? Safety plays with such low stakes that you can't be confident that it won't get a little crazy. What has it got to lose? Kenneth proves to be both laughable and impressive, committed so deeply that he takes serious risks: during one break-in scene, the daffy excitement of Kenneth's lifestyle is cleverly contrasted with a humdrum office party. By the end of the movie, the world of Safety is just as much Kenneth's as any skeptic's. And that might be the point. Just as Darius's prickliness softens (however predictably) and the movie's potential mean-spiritedness turns to earnestness, Safety Not Guaranteed is an earth-toned missive against cynicism. Hard to completely dislike that.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Low-stakes likability."


Film Details

Safety Not Guaranteed
Rated R · 85 min. · 2012
Official Site:
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Derek Connolly
Producer: Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf, Stephanie Langhoff, Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake M. Johnson, Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jenica Bergere, Lynn Shelton, David Schultz and Karan Soni


Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for Safety Not Guaranteed


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Film Review

Twitter Activity

Most Recent Comments

The lobster is arbitrarily asinine, disjointed, and gratuitously violent towards both humans and former humans that "didn't make it." If …

by Marco_Polo on The Lobster Surreally Skewers Society’s Fear of Single People (Film Review)

The only peeople who murdered those boys were let off by an inexperienced prosecutor and hoodwinked judge. The facts are …

by Greg 1 on The West Memphis Three are free ... what about the real killer? (Film Review)

"Miles Ahead"... "opening Friday".... where? I'm having a tough time finding film times/locations on now. The …

by Tbone on Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis Film, Miles Ahead, Isn’t a Real Biopic—It’s Something Better (Film Review)

Actually, many evangelicals and other Christians would not agree with the notion that "if you are a true believer you …

by bsquizzato on Film Review: Christian Movie Miracles From Heaven Goes Where Secular Hollywood Won't (Film Review)


The lobster is arbitrarily asinine, disjointed, and gratuitously violent towards both humans and former humans that "didn't make it." If …

by Marco_Polo on The Lobster Surreally Skewers Society’s Fear of Single People (Film Review)

Most Read

© 2016 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation