Safety Not Guaranteed is an admirably strange effort, taking a few risks and hitting as much as it misses. It’s fundamentally a comedy-drama which keeps you constantly unsure which road it might go down, flirting with everything from a sci-fi romance, to a psychological drama or even a spy thriller.
That’s actually where the film works best, it’s an uncomfortable watch in the sense that it’s impossible to get your hands on but unfortunately its tedious side plot and off-kilter pacing both hold it back from being a great piece.
Jeff (Jake Johnson) proposes a quirky investigative piece for his Seattle magazine based on an advert posted in a newspaper:
“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.”
His intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) finds out the man is Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass) and convinces him that she can be his companion for the trip. Kenneth seems borderline schizophrenic, convinced the government are after him but genuinely earnest about his mission to time travel. Although the film doesn’t really acknowledge the issue, there’s a real uncomfortableness regarding the morality of the magazine deceiving their way into the life of a man who seems so vulnerable. It turns out Kenneth wishes to time travel back to save an ex lover, while Darius becomes close to him and shares her wish to save her mother who was murdered when she was a child.
The film is strongest when exploring this central relationship and gets off track when dealing with the superfluous side plot of Jeff trying to relinquish a relationship with an old flame, while simultaneously taking a geeky intern under his wing to try and ‘teach him a good time’. This part of the film really doesn’t work and distracts from the interesting core of the film: Kenneth’s sanity and the unusual relationship he builds with Darius.
Clocking in at 86 minutes – the ending feels unnecessarily rushed and fails to build towards the deserved climax. It is however a brave film, built slowly and full of curious developments. It’s unconventional and quite charming when it keeps its focus, remaining commendable and endearing despite its failings.
Review by David Rank
Safety Not Guaranteed is out on 26th December in the UK. Certificate 15 (UK). Running time 86 mins.
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