Safety Not Guaranteed
(US theatrical: 8 Jun 2012)
SXSW curates 14 titles from Sundance to show at the festival each year, and as Safety Not Guaranteed was one of the most talked about films from that fest it was pretty inevitable it would be shown here. Hype however, breeds skepticism and I was side eyeing the heck out of the buzz surrounding this movie.
From a more-or-less rookie writer/director team, Safety Not Guaranteed is based on a Wanted Ad that became an internet meme. You really can’t fault me for being leery, can you?
This is the ad that appeared in the magazine Backwoods Home in 1997:
“WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. “Safety Not Guaranteed”. I have only done this once before.”
The ad re-appeared, becoming an internet meme a few years back and caught the attention of writer Derek Connolly. Originally imagined as a male bonding story, Connolly changed direction and wrote the main character, Darius Britt, specifically for Aubrey Plaza (who we all know and love as April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation) after seeing her in Funny People. Connolly teamed up with his friend, director Colin Trevorrow who attended NYU and interned at SNL with Connolly.
Plaza plays a Seattle Magazine intern who sets out to find the person who placed the strange ad (Mark Duplass) with her boss (Jake Johnson) and fellow intern (Karan Soni). I won’t say much more related to plot because this is one of those movies that you don’t want to go into knowing too much. I am a firm believer in movie magic and sometimes knowledge is its worst enemy.
Speaking of movie magic, you may have to be a believer too in order to enjoy Safety Not Guaranteed the way it is intended to be—by the way, my skepticism was erased in the first five minutes of the movie. Don’t be a hyperactive viewer, trying to stay ahead of the plot. This movie is about time travel! And not in a Hot Tub Time Machine kind of way, which is what I was fearful of. It is the exact opposite in the best way possible.
Duplass’ character Kenneth believes he can go back in time, and Plaza’s character Darius begins to think maybe he really can as she gets to know him. You expect comedy from Plaza and Duplass, and while that is here in abundance to say this is a comedy would be undermining the actual depth of character and story that is here. Not that first time writers/directors can’t deliver that but it comes off as very seasoned and I’d be lying to say I wasn’t surprised by the Safety’s profundity and heart.
You can tell Connolly loved writing this script. You can tell Trevorrow loved directing it. You can tell the actors loved being in it. The pay off in all that is a movie you can’t help but get swept up in and cheer the story along (yes, there was actual cheering and applause from the audience).
Something I always wonder about is the affect seeing a movie in the safety of a film festival with an enthusiastic crowd has on how much you end up liking it. Versus say, if you had just seen it as a wide release in your neighborhood theater with texting teens and “whisper shouting” senior citizens. I learned yesterday that this is actually called seeing a movie through “festival goggles” and I’m hardly the only one concerned by it. South By is interestingly one of the only film festivals that does not hold separate screenings for press and industry, something I feel may be done to intensify the “festival goggle” affect.
I say all of that as somewhat of a disclaimer to what I’m about to say next – I loved this movie. In a ‘I want to jump up and down and tell everyone to see it’ kind of way. I haven’t been able to stand in a line where everyone doesn’t chime in with their fervent approval if Safety Not Guaranteed is mentioned since. But remember, you must bring your own weapons. And I have only done this once before.