Laughter is guaranteed in this fun indie comedy about wanting to reset the past.
Safety Not Guaranteed, which had its Australian premiere Sunday night at the Sydney Film Festival, follows a jaded journalistic investigation into time travel.
A man named Kenneth claims not only that he can go back in time, but that he has done so once before. Kenneth needs a partner, so—rationally enough—he takes out a classified ad in the newspaper. Figuring Kenneth is crazy, a magazine reporter and two interns go after the story.
Intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) finds herself drawn into Kenneth’s quest and realizes they share something in common: They both have been hurt by something in the past and want desperately to change it.
Mark Duplass is perfect as possibly crazy guy Kenneth—he’s sweet but beneath his innocent exterior lurks something dark. You’re never quite sure whether to root for him or to yell pathetically at the screen, “Darius, get out of there!”
Plaza, Jake Johnson and Karan Soni have great chemistry as the dysfunctional journalistic team. Plaza and Johnson, best known for their performances in Parks and Recreation and New Girl, don’t stray very far from their TV roles. Plaza plays a shrugging, sarcastic indie kid while Johnson is loud, angry and yet…somehow sympathetic. But hey, it’s hard to complain when those actors do those roles so well.
The film’s got a smart script. Unlike many comedies, Safety Not Guaranteed doesn’t feel like a series of sketches. Fitting for movie about time travel, each character’s actions and motivations are rooted in their pasts. It’s engaging not because you can’t wait for the next joke, but because you genuinely like the characters and want to know what’s going to happen to them.
Soni’s character doesn’t feel quite as well constructed as the rest of the cast. And the ending leaves a few loose ends. Yes, there is a proper payoff scene, but I couldn’t help but feel unresolved about the fates of a few of the characters.
It is impressive how much the filmmakers did with minimal budget. Speaking at the Sydney premiere, director Colin Trevorrow was quick to point out how little money was spent making the film. Meanwhile, marketing for this film seems to rely heavily on a viral Facebook campaign. But Safety Not Guaranteed never felt for a second like it was a film-school movie or other cheaply made affair.
Here’s hoping the Facebook campaign works and people go out and see it. It’s definitely worth a “Like.”
**** Four Stars (out of five)