Release: Friday, June 8, 2012 (limited)
‘Send her out into the world. You know that she’s bound to get hurt. God softly moved the young girl, when she was digging in the dirt. You’re hurt, so bring it back.’
And as I continue to repeat the lyrics of one particularly nice tune featured in Safety Not Guaranteed — to the point where the song might wear out its welcome much sooner than it should — I can’t help but link the longing in the voice and the sense of displacement in the words to the experience of watching this for the first time. Safety may not be a guarantee director Colin Trevorrow can make, but he damn well can ensure that his first full-length feature will be a good one. Like the song, there is a simple finesse about this newest member of mumblecore cinema, an appeal that materializes as naturally as the roles of leads Aubrey Plaza (as Darius) and Mark Duplass (as ‘crazy’ Kenneth).
Three Seattle Magazine writers become entangled with an eccentric loner’s ambitious time-traveling experiment when he suddenly finds himself the target of their story. He has posted an ad in the classified section of the local paper asking for someone to go back in time with him. They attempt to interview him to get some information first but the source, as luck would have it, is something of a hermit and not the type of guy you could easily get on the phone. And so develops a fascinating and hilarious espionage.
Their first opportunity to speak with Kenneth, naturally, goes about as well as banana-and-tuna on burnt rye.
Thanks to an impressively irritating performance by Jake M. Johnson, the interns’ slacker-of-an-editor Jeff, he comes across far too aggressively for Kenneth to want to divulge any information whatsoever. In fact, he’s immediately taken aback by the act of Jeff even appearing on his property. He leaves and the team needs to figure out a new way to get something from this guy.
It’s a good thing the trio of journalists have Darius to call upon. In one of my favorite new break-out roles, Plaza delivers an extremely charming performance that is all at once warming, cold, distant and intimate. This girl is a very curious sort, but as it turns out, she could very well be their best chance at interviewing this guy. And that is of course to say, she’d be the ideal candidate to travel back in time with Kenneth. They are, after all, responding to this ad they found and for sometime they seem serious about pursuing it, no matter how unlikely it may seem to the rest of us.
Where Safety Not Guaranteed really becomes fun and lets its quirky charm fill the screen follows Darius’s meeting with this time traveler/hermit fella. Kenneth operates incognito as a grocery store clerk when not messing with technology or sending out ads seeking a traveling partner. It’s funny, though. That “are you kidding me” look you get so accustomed to seeing in Darius’ eyes is notably absent when she approaches him in the store. It’s maybe the first time we see her open up to anyone. (It’s become pretty obvious at this juncture that she’s not too interested in her colleagues.)
And so what if it has taken this long to get to her?
As one might expect, the film is going to, at one time or another, surrender itself to building an unusual relationship, between that of a curious journalist and a borderline sociopathic genius. However, the film hardly takes the front door into the house.
One of the main tenets of Trevorrow’s feature debut is patience; this film is about finding love at just the right moment. It has no intention of feeding you another hokie story of love at first sight. Following the grocery store meeting there is plenty of suspense and character building generated between Darius and the increasingly paranoid Kenneth. His fears, as far as Darius can tell, are unusual and may include government agents following him, but she’s game to follow along. As are we. Where there’s little room for corniness, there’s opportunity aplenty to identify with these characters, quirky as they are. They are full flesh-and-blood, both still reeling from pains felt earlier in their life. It is easy to see that these two have something, but spare us the Valentine’s Day colors.
And Trevorrow, in all his genius, does!
On top of that, his genius shall also include an ability to cap off a great film with its most gratifying element yet: the conclusion. There are several legitimate arguments you could make against it, though. Perhaps we didn’t need to see the time machine itself, and only have clues and inferences to his successful time warp (remember, he’s only done this once before). Perhaps we could have done without the literal translation of Kenneth’s obsession with becoming the next Dr. Emmett Brown. When we see the john boat rigged up with all kinds of signals, radio antennae and other mind-blowing devices, we think “uh-oh.” Has the film become a little too indulgent in making the weird seem normal?
But the physical presence of the boat kind of brings everything into perspective all at once. For one thing, this guy is not quite as insane as we’ve been building him up to be in our minds (since the film really puts the character into situations where we’re unable to think anything differently. . . he steals lasers from a government building, for example). Secondly, nobody else has been close enough to him to know what his true intentions have been and now that we know them, he seems to be a more legitimate scientist, not to mention, something of a romantic.
And third, who can forget the final line spoken by Kenneth as he disappears as quickly as he popped into the picture:
“To go it alone, or to go with a partner. When you choose a partner, you have to make compromises and sacrifices, but it is the price you pay. Do I want to follow my every whim as I make my way through time and space? Absolutely. But, at the end of the day, do I need someone when I’m doubting myself and I’m insecure and MY heart’s failing me. Do I need someone who, when the heat gets hot, has my back?”
It’s one hell of a parting gift.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of the Duplass brothers’ work, you’ve likely already sought this one out. It was released in June of 2012 so I have no real good reason why it’s taken me this long to seeing it. Now that I have, I absolutely will take it one step further and suggest this film to any who are a fan of the mumblecore movement, and even beyond, to those who enjoy a good romantic flick. It’s not overt in that manner, but that’s its strongest quality: remaining understated.
Running Time: 86 mins.
Quoted: “There’s no sense in nonsense, especially when the heat is hot.”
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