Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

Mike Finkelstein wants someone to go back in time with him. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after you get back. You will be going back to 1985 to do three very important things: attend the premiere of BACK TO THE FUTURE, invest in Apple, and tell Ke$ha to become a lawyer. But before Mike leaves, he needs to go see a movie to get some advice on time traveling. Here is his review of “Safety Not Guaranteed”.

Mike Finkelstein wants someone to go back in time with him.  This is not a joke.  You’ll get paid after you get back.  You will be going back to 1985 to do three very important things: attend the premiere of BACK TO THE FUTURE, invest in Apple, and tell Ke$ha to become a lawyer.  But before Mike leaves, he needs to go see a movie to get some advice on time traveling.  Here is his review of “Safety Not Guaranteed”.

PLOT: Darius (Aubrey Plaza), is a lonely, sarcastic intern at a Seattle magazine trying to make her way through life.  When a veteran writer (Jake M. Johnson) decides to track down and write a story about the man behind a classified ad asking for a time traveling partner, she jumps at the chance for some excitement.  Soon, the two, along with fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) find themselves in the prescience of Kenneth (Mark Duplass)—a slightly eccentric supermarket clerk with some really big ideas.  The only question is…could he actually build a time machine…?

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: We are in the middle of a summer defined by big budgets, sequels, and tent-pole superhero movies.  Every weekend, another epic hits the screen that we have to see, and we rush out overload our senses as we add on to the $100 Million+ box office return.  But sometimes, we want a break from all that.  We want a movie that hits us in our hearts, lights a fire, and is just a nice, warm blanket of reassurance for whatever struggle we’re going through that day.  SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is that movie.

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED follows Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a lonely, sarcastic intern at a Seattle magazine trying to figure out her life.  When a veteran writer (Jake M. Johnson) decides to track down and write a story about a classified ad that asks for a time traveling partner, Darius and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) jump at the chance to tag along.  Soon, however, it turns out that Darius is the only one who can get anywhere close to the author—a slightly eccentric supermarket clerk named Kenneth (Mark Duplass)—and it’s up to her to try and figure out…is he telling the truth, or is he just crazy?

The thing that makes SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED so beautiful to watch is that it deals with all those issues we all have, but never talk about.  We all deal with regret.  We all wonder what could or should have happened if we had done something differently.  We all want to escape our lives sometimes for something sweeter or simpler.  While the film starts off on more of a quirky comedy level with our three musketeers trying to find out who the hell this author is, it soon turns to the more honest, heartfelt side as we delve a little deeper into all our characters’ wants and desires as they try to keep them from everyone else, including themselves.

Aubrey Plaza is absolutely charming as Darius.  Known for her dry-wit and deadpan sarcasm (“Parks and Recreation”, FUNNY PEOPLE), Plaza actually eases up a bit here and gives more of an emotional performance than we’ve seen before.  The role was written for her, and it’s beautiful to watch, especially in one particular scene, when Darius finally opens up about her mother’s death.  We could almost see the wounds that Darius has hidden for so long, and at the same time, we see the emergence of an actress as Plaza shows that she could do a bit more than just the same one-note shtick.

Next to her for about 90% of the movie is Mark Duplass as the eccentric, Kenneth.  Known more as a writer than an actor (he was the man behind the indie hits CYRUS and JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME), Duplass brings a life and important balance to the character that many may have overlooked.  Kenneth’s moments range from creepy and intimidating to charming and genuine, but all the while, you know he believes 150% that he’s going back in time…a factor that makes us like him even more, especially since we start questioning if he really could or not as well…

Rounding out the support system is Jake M. Johnson as Jeff, the snarky, blunt, and jaded boss to Darius, and Karan Soni as Arnau, the studious, terrified-of-everything introvert who is only at the magazine to diversify his resume.  Both are fine actors, with Johnson making sure we know what Jeff’s priorities—focusing more on a former fling than the story at hand—while still showing off a sentimental side, and Soni making Arnau surf the spectrum between subtle moments of comfort and extreme moments of self doubt.

My only issue with SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED has to do with the final scene.  The film brings us on a beautiful journey of self-discovery for all the characters involved (with a hell of a cast). We get to know these characters so well, and then suddenly, within the last few minutes, we shift to a scenario and finale that seems almost forced rather than honest.  This isn’t too horrible a situation, however, because while it’s completely out of left field and I would have wished for something truer to what we’ve been watching, I will admit that it definitely doesn’t take away from the fun and overall message of pushing forward.  In the end, as long as that message still comes across, that’s what really counts.

Life is a hard thing to deal with.  We all have worries.  We all have fears.  We all have regrets.  But sometimes, if we’re lucky enough, we can come across a piece of art that’ll light that fire inside us and reaffirm that we’re not alone.  SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is that piece of art.  And while it may not be perfect, in a world this tough, sometimes you need something to help you keep going.

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is that something…

GRADE: B+

Mike’s LIKES:

1) DEALING WITH PAST REGRETS: A beautiful movie that allows us, as the audience, to reflect on our past regrets as the characters reflect on theirs.  By the end, we feel stronger, more competent, and ready to face the world.

2) MARK DUPLASS: Known more for his writing, Duplass plays Kenneth perfectly.  Building a mix of love, hate, anger and happiness, you never really know where he’s coming from or what his intentions are, and are always trying to figure out what’s behind the eyes.

3) AUBREY PLAZA: I only really know Plaza from “Parks and Recreation” and FUNNY PEOPLE, and to see her in a role made her for (literally) and showing some major depth is a thing of beauty.

4) JAKE M. JOHNSON: Snarky, sarcastic, and a complete asshole at times, and yet, by the end, we get the feeling that Jeff is not a bad guy at all, but a jaded one.  It’s all thanks to Jake M. Johnson.

5) KARAN SONI: I’m not sure how Soni is in real life, but judging by publicity pictures and photo shoots, something tells me he is nothing like Arnau.  Take into account his performance, and that’s impressive.

6) STORMTROOPERS ARE BLUE COLLAR WORKERS: A great little observation that I never really thought about…

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) WHERE IS MY MIND?: While the film as a whole is excellent, there is something about the final scene that takes us out of the reality we were given.  After everything we’ve been led to believe, it’s almost like Hollywood got a hold of the script for the last five minutes, and for an otherwise stunning movie, let us down.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) Writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow found the ad’s author living in the mountains of Oregon.  It took a few  years of gaining his trust, but he finally allowed them the rights to use his ad.

2) The real life author of the original classified ad has a cameo as the first man that walks into the post office as Darius and Arnau are on their stakeout.

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