Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass) puts out an ad in the paper looking for someone to go back in time with him. “You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” The cynical reporter for a Seattle magazine, Jeff (Jake Johnson), pitches the idea as a funny article and enlists the help of two awkward interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni). Really though, Jeff just wants to hook up with his old high school girlfriend (Mary Lynn Rajskub) that lives near to the ad’s address. Jeff fails to connect, but Darius goes undercover and gets very close to Kenneth.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) is so lovely. It’s Midnight in Paris (2011) lovely with an element of Juno (2007) in its awkwardness. It’s a story about regret and missed opportunities. Life-affirming stuff. And it’s also incredibly funny. It caters to my every desire. Funny, slightly sad, and the best possible ending. Writer Derek Connolly delivers. I know in the coldest recesses of my heart that some of you will call the story “predictable”. If you’re a total douchebag, you might even call it cloying. But you, madam, have an empty space where your heart should be and you can wheel yourself down to the French tragedy factory and gorge yourself on loaves of self-hatred to satisfy your diet of pain.
It also has a terrific cast. I love them all. Is that too much to say? Duplass/Kenneth is wacky, certainly. I mean one or two steps away from Napoleon Dynamite strange, but in a way that is kind of endearing. Once he’s convinced you that he’s totally harmless, that is. Aubrey Plaza/Darius is just my newest crush. She’s world-weary but not cynical. She has no use for hatred or false superiority. Johnson/Jeff is just funny. And Soni/Arnau is a little kooky and so insecure. They all play their parts with exceptional vulnerability which is, of course, an instant connection. I may not understand every response or motive, but that vulnerability makes it believable. Incredible job.
This is a comedy, so the direction has a low threshold for being good (outside of directing performance, obviously). Still, Colin Trevorrow makes no error that I noticed. He wasn’t particularly ambitious, but with $750,000, which is a ludicrous budget, by the way, considering Juno cost $7.5 million. You have to ask, “What the hell did you [Juno] spend it on?” It didn’t look cheap or seek cover in a mockumentary style. The Ryan Miller soundtrack is solid. It’s very much in the indy mainstream—if that’s even allowed to be a description—but we happen to be in a pretty nice generation on that score. Kind of Rogue Wave sort of stuff. And cheers to Duplass for playing that mountain dulcimer (read it in the IMDB facts) with agility.
When the price chills out, you should definitely get your hands on it.