Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

There's a little joke in Safety Not Guaranteed (or it's one I'm imagining) that anyone who's into "hip" network sitcoms and also was into animation in its 1990s-TV heyday might get: The female lead is named "Darius," and to top it off she's played by Aubrey Plaza, who in Parks and Recreation over the past few years has been honing her almost-Goth-but-mostly-bored post-millennial version of the kind of post-adolescent scorn we know so well from Ghost World—and (the point of the little joke) from Daria, the Beavis and Butt-Head MTV spinoff in the late '90s that featured an Aubrey-Plaza-like dark-haired, monotone-voiced young woman who's long been Over It. What "it," you might ask? Well, like Brando's rebel in The Wild Ones, whatever you got.*

Here, she's ready to have nothing to do with a Silly Season news story that may not be there at all, about a classified ad from someone seeking a time-travel companion who "must bring your own weapons." Let me pause and note that the past decade has seen what may be the Great Time-Travel Movie Renaissance—and not just big-budget near-hits and definite-misses like Hot Tub Time Machine and The Lake House; just scout around, and there's Time Crimes, the ineffable Donnie Darko, and the big-budget, clever-plus-morose Looper—not to mention the mysterious and dense king of the indie time-travel pics, Primer.  Even Woody Allen has fun with time-travel as regressive escape in Midnight in ParisSafety Not Guaranteed actually has more in common with Allen's picture than the others, in that the movie is mostly about states of mind and relationships than it is the usual (and, when done correctly, compelling) paradoxes of tinkering with time.

The tone of the movie is pure indie-quirky, with equal measures world-weary irony and exasperated risk-taking.  Again, let me stress that the fun of the usual time-travel movie is nicely subsumed here into a consideration of the personalities who would indulge in it—and of those who find themselves attracted to such indulgence. Above all, the ongoing skepticism of the reporter and accompanying interns allows the movie its punchline: Is it real? Will someone travel in time? No spoilers here, just a reassurance that things get clear enough at the end to justify Darius' growing conviction that the existence of time travel is not as important as the decision to believe in it.

*And just to lean on the cute-hip-o-meter a little more, Plaza's co-star is Jake Johnson from The New Girl, a show that may be the epitome of postmodern screwball, and I mean that as a big fan.


  1. Hey don't forget Mark Duplass,who I felt hit just the right note between sweet and obsessive, and who, with his brother, is a frequent guest on the adorable the Mindy Project. I love this little movie.

    1. You're right! Loads of post-Seinfeld quirky cred!

  2. With a low budget but a lot of imagination and talent, director Trevorrow and writer Connolly create a deceptively simple comedy that's one of the most entertaining films of the year.