WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
And from this curious classified found in the back of a magazine, one journalist (Jake Johnson) and two interns (Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni) are charged with tracking down its author for an article. Once located, Darius (Plaza) is charged with convincing the man in question, Kenneth (Mark Duplass), that she wishes to enlist herself as his companion on the time-jumping expedition, in the hope they dig up a juicy story about what really makes him tick. Is it all a silly joke or the work of a real wacko convinced they have mastered time travel?
Despite its American indie credentials, Safety Not Guaranteed is far less cynical than you might expect. In many ways, the characters’ journey mirror your own response to the film: initially, yes, the narrative drive is borne from a position of cynicism, but as Darius becomes further embroiled in Kenneth’s plans (undertaking his rigorous training regime in order to prepare herself for the trip), she warms to both him and the idea.
Plaza’s patented stroppy schtick works here then, but only because she wonderfully counterpoints it with her gradual shedding of scepticism and slipping, not so much into outright belief, but into a state where she can entertain the possibility of it all. It also helps than in Kenneth, Duplass gives a real weight of credibility. It’s a perfectly judged performance – never too broad or silly or creepy or kooky, but couched in the right level of sweet vulnerability, even if you’re not certain exactly whether, deep down, he’s really nuts.
A sub-plot involving Johnson’s grade-A asshole character attempting to reconnect with an old high school flame is very funny, but doesn’t quite hang together as well with the main narrative as much as perhaps director Colin Trevorrow would have liked. But apart from that, it’s a charming debut feature, with good gags and a bunch of cameo appearances from some famous telly faces to boot.
I’D GO BACK IN TIME JUST SO I COULD SEE IT ALL OVER AGAIN! (Nurrr…)