I know this movie is a bit of a stretch for this niche website. However, I think I can make it work. Check it: Safety Not Guaranteed is based on a classified ad that was run in a 1997 issue of “Backwoods Home Magazine.” Yes, the ad was initially a joke meant to fill the extra space, but it was printed and intrigued thousands of people. So it works, right? It’s settled.
Safety Not Guaranteed is not just a sci-fi film or just an indie film. It is a romance film, a science fiction film, and indie film, a comedy, and a drama all rolled into one beautiful package that I want to watch a million more times (and possibly have the scene where they are camping on loop, amiright?)
Initially, what first intrigued me to see this movie when it was announced last year was the actual ad it is based on.
The ad that is the basis for the film (which you can see below), reads,
“Wanted: Somebody 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.”
I mean who doesn’t love a good time travel movie? The ad is fascinating but doesn’t give away anything about the film. For a brief (spoiler free) synopsis we have two interns and a writer from a magazine in Seattle investigating the ad. Darius (played by Plaza) connects with the young man claiming time travel as they finish the machine and plan out their first mission together.
But what really sealed the deal for me was the cast. The film sports an indie cast that you can’t help but fall in love with. We have a main character played by Aubrey Plaza (“Parks and Recreation”), her colleague Jake Johnson (“New Girl”) and the self-proclaimed time traveller played Mark Duplass (“The League”). If you haven’t watched these actor’s televisions shows, you are missing out. Each actor has their own personality that they infuse into the character without losing the essence of their character. Not once during the film was I seeing April from “Parks and Rec” or Nick from “New Girl.” Even Duplass was able to separate his Pete character from his role in this film.
The time travel aspect of this film is approached perfectly. The film is mostly about the characters and their relationships with each other with this time machine concept sitting in the background. The science behind it is barely elaborated on (something with lasers and a boat is about all we get) while most of the movie is spent watching our two travellers prepare for their mission.
I also want to note that the film is gorgeous. The director, Colin Trevorrow, knew exactly what he wanted so the film was shot on the Sony F3 using old Panavision lenses, which gave the film a desired “Hal Ashby look.” The result is that the film utilizing a lot of flat colors and pale tones that somehow add to the characters disillusioned state of mind.
:::: Spoilers Ahead ::::
Safety Not Guaranteed is one of those rare films that is able to capture that feeling that most of us just miss. The pain and isolation that comes with growing up, with evolving, with the always-scary idea of change. For Darius the isolation is self-imposed. After the death of her mother, which she believes was her fault, she is unable to connect with anyone, to let anyone in, or even let herself be happy. For Jeff we see him becoming disillusioned with love and relationships. Arnau, on the other hand, yearns for relationships with people but is so introversive that he can barely talk to anyone openly. All of us can identify with one of the three main characters. What is wonderful though, is that we get to see these characters move forward after so long of being stagnant in their lives. Darius finally opens up and Kenneth see the real her and even lets him in romantically. This fact is only intensified by the knowledge that she has never had a boyfriend or been with someone in such a way. Jeff attempts to find what he is missing in his life by revisiting his past, but not by time traveling. Instead he tracks down an old girlfriend in a misguided attempt to feel like young and innocent love he once experienced with her. Once she rejects him he realizes that he can never go back to being young again but he can also feel real love again. Arnau, with a little pushing from Jeff, is able to overcome his shyness to actually have a relationship with a woman (albeit is a one night stand, but it remains a huge step for the character.)
It is arguable that Kenneth is the only one who truly open and honest with himself even when others think he is weird or crazy. He is probably the most mentally healthy character in the film. Though his relationship with Belinda and the truth behind her is debatable and up to the viewer to decide.
Possibly the best part of the entire film is the ending. The whole movie you have this feeling of something building. Something small at first. You think it is the romantic feelings between Darius and Kenneth (which let’s face it, was fucking adorable and I just want to hug both of them). However, the moment comes when she finally boards the boat/time machine, this exact moment is what the entire film was leading. It is the moment Darius boards the machine and in an instant they are gone. It is such a powerful and astonishing moment that for a second you are left staring at the screen, speechless.
As one of my friends said when we were talking about the film, “I still get chills thinking of the ending.” Don’t we all…