Published Jun 14, 2012Colin Trevorrow's Safety Not Guaranteed is a diamond ring in a trash pile. Chances are it will never, or only after a long wait, reach the multiplex cinemas of the suburbs, where retirees stumble up the aisles and teen punks sext well after the curtains go up. Instead, Safety Not Guaranteed will be relegated to the dilapidated movie houses and cosmopolitan swank-joints, where winos expel noxious gasses and hip couples try to find an ironic method to pull off the arm wraparound.
The characters in Safety Not Guaranteed are very much like the archetypes just described. They are real, but not in the sense of gritty realism, where there is an accustomed cinematographic style that supposedly signifies reality: film grain, hand-held camera, cigarettes, etc. Safety Not Guaranteed has little of that. In fact, the film looks beautiful. The Seattle countryside, with its whimsical forests and sprawling beaches, is the perfect backdrop for the eclectic troop of characters, who, apart from the heroine, are all driven by one common motivation.
That motivation, essentially, is to mate. It drives Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), who is a writer for a popular Seattle magazine, to pitch an assignment that returns him to his old high school stomping grounds – a small town in rural Washington.
Jeff labels this trip a vacation, but as he steers his Escalade (on chrome 24s) through the West coast brush, he let's slip that he took the assignment merely so he could bonk an old high school sweetheart. Naturally, Jeff confesses this to his two portable interns, one of whom takes the reins on the project and ends up injecting herself into the story.
Darius, our heroine intern (played by Aubrey Plaza, from Parks and Recreation), attaches herself to an oddball of a grocery store clerk named Kenneth (Mark Duplass), who posted a personal ad in the paper looking for a companion to time travel with. Kenneth may be the story, and Jeff the writer, but Darius is the one who ends up doing all the grunt work. She is the one who helps Kenneth steal a laser from a local laser dispensary. She is the one who convinces Kenneth that his prosthetic ear is nothing to sulk about. Darius even manages to cure Kenneth's love sickness, which has been driving his compulsion to make the time machine all along. Darius, for good or ill, finds much more than a mate in Kenneth; she finds herself. That's what makes her the hero of the film.
And so, despite its humble beginnings – this is Trevorrow's big-screen debut – Safety Not Guaranteed is more than your typical homegrown American indie fare. It is not exactly mumblecore, even with Mark Duplass co-starring, yet at the same time it's not a popcorn rom-com. This film exists somewhere between the two extremes, where the air is too fresh for the winos and the babes too brunette for the teen punks.
Safety Not Guaranteed is merely an intelligent and quirky Sundance grad that probably won't shine as much as it should due to all the garbage being churned out of Hollywood. (Alliance)