If you can get past the flaws, Safety Not Guaranteed will make for a short but pleasant time.
Safety Not Guaranteed
Safety Not Guaranteed thankfully takes its science fiction framework and keeps it in the background, instead putting the focus on its characters and how they grow over the film’s short running time. For the most part the movie gets by on its low-key charm, with two good central performances but the sitcom-like structure drives a giant wedge into the film’s stronger qualities.
A recent college graduate working as an unpaid intern at Seattle Magazine, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is anti-social and mostly miserable. When Jeff (Jake Johnson), one of the magazine’s writers, takes on a story about an ad looking for a partner to travel back in time with, Darius leaps at the opportunity to work on it. The writer takes Darius along with Arnau (Karan Soni), a nerdy intern who hasn’t been with a woman yet. Darius and Arnau soon find the man who wrote the ad, an awkward grocery store worker named Kenneth (Mark Duplass) who believes he’s being followed and recorded at all times. Darius convinces Kenneth to let her be his time travelling partner, while Jeff tries to get back with his high school sweetheart and Arnau begins to come out of his shell. As Darius gets more involved with Kenneth she starts to fall for him while thinking that he might actually be able to travel back in time.
Plaza and Duplass play slight variations on the kind of roles that they’ve been specializing in over the years. Duplass throws plenty of weirdness on his role as a paranoid outcast, while Plaza brings her character from Parks and Recreation down several hundred notches to something resembling reality. Duplass is terrific at balancing Kenneth’s quirks with the emotional pain his character hides, and Plaza’s greatest strength is the way she gets people to like her without coming across like she’s trying. Their first meeting at the grocery store Kenneth works at is truly enjoyable, showing off their terrific chemistry which is the film’s greatest asset.
Unfortunately Plaza/Duplass’ time is shared with the two subplots involving Jeff and Arnau. Both of the characters’ stories are predictable, and they feel so separate from the main action that at times it feels like they’re in a different film altogether. It also doesn’t help that Jeff’s vain, womanizing qualities make him unlikable while Karan Soni portrays Arnau so broadly that he doesn’t feel like a real person. Each time the film switches its focus to these two it grinds things to a halt.
Luckily the story between Darius and Kenneth is exciting enough to carry things through to the end. The ambiguity over whether or not Kenneth is a genius or a nut is responsible for most of the film’s momentum, and writer Derek Connelly manages to give a definitive answer with a surprisingly satisfying ending. The film’s two subplots feel more like padding which suggests that the time travel story might have been too weak to turn into a feature on its own, but Plaza and Duplass really make the material work. If you can get past the flaws, Safety Not Guaranteed will make for a short but pleasant time.