Appellate Judge Tom Becker cancelled his time travel contract when he read the fine print: "Bacon not guaranteed."
"The mission has to do with regret, and the mission has to do with mistakes. And the mission is also about love."
Facts of the Case
Darius (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation) has been fairly well disillusioned by life, even though she's only in her early 20s. She's interning at a magazine while trying (somewhat hopelessly) to land a job—any job.
She volunteers to go on a road trip when Jeff (Jake Johnson, 21 Jump Street), one of the magazine's writers, suggests a story. She doesn't seem all that interested in the story itself. Jeff happened upon a strange classified ad looking for a companion to time travel, and he thinks it would make a funny article.
So Darius, Jeff, and another intern, Arnau (Karan Soni), head out to a beach community to find the time traveler. They track down Kenneth (Mark Duplass, Greenberg), a weird guy who works in a grocery store.
The plan is to pretend to be answering the ad and get the story from the inside. When the brash Jeff, who clearly thinks the whole thing is a joke, tries to befriend Kenneth, he's strongly rebuffed.
So Darius steps up, and she clearly has a few advantages. For one, she's a pretty girl. But more important, she's not much less of an odd misfit than Kenneth. So when Kenneth starts talking about "the mission" and asking her why she wants to time travel, it's easy for her to play along.
But the more time they spend getting Kenneth's time machine prepared for the journey, Darius starts to wonder whether she's "playing along" or actually buying in to this craziness.
The term "quirky indie film" has taken a real hit over the years. I know I'm not the only one who's seen "quirky indie films" that have made me want to douse my brains with a huge bowl of snark. Too often, "quirky indie films" offer up loveable oddball characters who are just aching for the audience to embrace their preciousness—so desperately that they become insufferable.
So, when Safety Not Guaranteed showed up at my door, I was cautious. Yes, it I'd heard good things about it, and it had the honor of being a Sundance selection (which can be hit or miss), but it also had a premise that could have easily damned it into the kind of self-conscious cuteness that makes me want to throw things.
Imagine my surprise when Safety Not Guaranteed turned out to be one of the most charming films I've seen in a long time. The quirkiness is organic and believable; this isn't just another low-budget, idiosyncratic sledgehammer, but a wry and moving film that hits its grace notes with sincerity and precision.
Plus, it's really funny.
Safety Not Guaranteed reminded me a little of another off-beat film from many years ago, Pretty Poison. In that film, Anthony Perkins played an odd young man who claimed to be on a secret mission, and "recruited" the lovely Tuesday Weld as an accomplice. The difference is that Pretty Poison was a dark and cynical comedy with some outlandish twists. Safety Not Guaranteed is like the inverse: sweet and sincere, with twists of a different sort, but no less intriguing and memorable.
The script, by Derek Connolly (who also produced), is funny and literate; it's also tender. Connolly knows these people, and he likes them; thus, we are spared the kind of off-kilter, "wacky" characters that tend to litter these sorts of films. Connolly eschews cheap gags, and never lets the humor trump the humanity of these complex and wholly recognizable people.
Safety Not Guaranteed is also, quite possibly, the most honestly romantic film of 2012. Yes, we know where this is going the minute Darius and Kenneth meet, but this is a story about the journey, not the destination. Thanks to Colin Treverrow's subtle but sure direction, and the nuanced, naturalistic performances by Plaza and Duplass, there's no hint of contrivance here, no sense that these characters will come together simply because the script dictates that they do. They "get" each other, even if the rest of the world doesn't, and we find ourselves buying into Kenneth and his seemingly hare-brained scheme the same way Darius does, straight on through to the enormously satisfying ending.
The acting is top notch. In addition to Duplass and the wonderful Plaza, whose resigned and fragile Darius really does seem to belong in another time, we get a nicely nasty turn from Johnson as the obnoxious—but not soulless—Jeff, and a sweet one from Soni as the nerdy intern who's just taken this job to diversify his resumé (he's really a biology major).
The disc from Sony offers a good looking transfer and a fine Dolby surround track—it's what you'd expect from a recent film. Supplements are a little thin: besides instructions for a digital download, there's a "making of" featurette, and a short (around two minutes) feature on "The Ad Behind the Movie." The film was based (loosely) not on a real ad, but a fake ad that writer John Silveira once ran in a magazine he worked at. Silveira offers an anecdote about the response to that ad.
The DVD case tells us that this is "from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine," which will be selling point for some and warning for others. While Safety Not Guaranteed doesn't have the "name" cast and crowd-pleasing aroma of that mainstreamed hit, it's a better film, and it deserves an audience.
One of the most pleasant surprises I've come upon in a while, Safety Not Guaranteed is a lovely little masterpiece. It's exactly what a "quirky indie" should be: funny and insightful, staying with you long after the credits have rolled.
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Scales of Justice
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