At no point is Safety Not Guaranteed the movie one might expect it to be. From the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, it manages to blend equal parts heart, comedy, and romance while teasing the audience with the promise of science fiction. Directed by Colin Trevorrow and written by Derek Connolly, the story revolves around an ad:
Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
A writer, Jeff (Jake Johnson), pitches the story of tracking down whoever placed the ad, co-opting two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), to join him on his mission. All of them have schticks which should quickly become wearisome, yet which they manage to make work. Jeff is a horny slacker more interested in hooking up with a high school sweetheart than finishing his assignment. Arnau is the virgin nerd who can’t even look girls in the eyes. And Darius is the intense loner. Their quest leads them to Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a paranoid, mid-30s grocery clerk.
“I feel like the world is mostly full of jackholes.” —Kenneth
While they begin as easy, one-dimensional labels, Safety Not Guaranteed shows that its characters are brimming with depth and charm. Kenneth is smart and sincere. Darius is vulnerable. Jeff is desperate for love. Arnau is pathetically geeky and sweet.
Plaza is a revelation as Darius, a young woman who just expects bad things to happen, so she doesn’t bother to get her hopes up. At first blush she’s little more than a variation of the character she plays on Parks and Recreation. As the movie progresses, we see Darius’ growth and changes. The more she learns about Kenneth, the more intrigued by him she becomes and the more she lets down her own walls and admit to her own regrets in life. Kenneth, who could have been written off as a loon, especially by the time he demonstrates his martial arts “sweet moves” which are the equivalent of a kid who has trained with his light saber in his backyard. Plaza and Duplass have such an interesting charm that we can almost look past what an odd pairing they make (both in terms of their size and age difference).
“What time would you go back to if you could?” —Darius
While time travel is the jump off point, not the point itself, at the heart of the characters’ motivation for that journey are regret, mistakes, and love. They are a group of outcasts, those easily labeled different or weird, seeking connections they’d lost. Their biggest regrets come from relationships, either by way of something they did, or worse, something they didn’t do, squandering an opportunity.
“He wasn’t the kind of guy you could easily fit into your life.” ‐Belinda
People aren’t always comfortable fits into our worlds. They can be odd, quirky, or eccentric. Yet we’re reminded that we need to not only extend an additional measure of grace to the “freakshows” of life, but need to be in-the-moment relationship builders, to appreciate the “God moments,” the divine appointments that are other people. Constantly making connections and being a part of people’s lives. Learning about people for their own sake, to hear their hurts and share their loads, not to fulfill some other agenda. We’re relational beings, hard-wired for relationships, so we naturally seek the connection that comes from getting to know others and allowing them into our lives.
“Just because a guy’s trying to do something new doesn’t mean he’s a freakshow.” —Darius
Safety Not Guaranteed has real heart to it, along with a pitch perfect cast to see it through. With its great characters, meaningful dialogue, and exploration of relationships, it’s like Donnie Darko by way of Wes Anderson.