When I make note of famous indie time travel movies, minds will undoubtedly jump first to Primer a stellar low-budget deeply perplexing film from the genre that made huge waves upon its release in 2004. However, I would never have imagined that an indie film would navigate again into such waters, let alone find itself financed by the Duplass Brothers, the certifiable power houses of the indie scene who appear to have their hands within anything and everything released in the world of independent cinema in the past year or so. Yet, in Safety Not Guaranteed one is provided with a very much indie film, including one of the Duplass' in a leading role, not to mention a narrative that finds itself heavily invested in the idea of time travel, although, to be fair, very little of it actually has to do with actual time travel, instead, focusing on events leading up to a planned tripped by one individual. Colin Trevorrow's fictional feature debut is a film that is ostensibly about time travel and at times this seems to be everything but the case for the film, yet as the narrative manages to show the idea of time travel is something shared by quite a few people and only actually attempted by a handful. A narratively mature film, aside from a handful of unfortunate uses of the word friggin, Safety Not Guaranteed is exactly what should be expected out of an indie film, a standard very much set by the Duplass Brothers and a lesson that could still use of teaching to some indie filmmakers who find themselves embracing sloppy and misguided filmmaking and cool or indie, when in fact it is just bad and ill conceived. Nothing about Safety Not Gauranteed reflects such misdirection and, in fact, beautifully stands its own compared to some heftier films claiming to be indie films, specifically, Silver Linings Playbook, which while good, certainly had a larger budget allowing for an all out marketing campaign and a means to accrue Oscar buzz. I am more than willing to say that Aubrey Plaza puts on a better performance in this film than Jennifer Lawrence does in Silver Linings Playbook, but the way the dice land results in one being relegated to her identity on Parks and Recreation, while the other is receiving far too much credit for what was essentially a run of the mill role.
Safety Not Guaranteed focuses on the somewhat disillusioned Darius (Aubrey Plaza) who is attempting to find income while dealing with her dead end internship at a magazine in Seattle. She seems destined for monotony until she is afforded an opportunity to engage in a piece with head writer Kenneth (Jake Johnson) and fellow intern Arnau (Karen Soni). The piece they plan to pursue focuses on a classified ad placed in a local newspaper requesting a partner for a time travel trip which threatens to be quite dangerous and the individual will receive compensation upon return. The crew of course assumes that they will invariably meet an insane individual and have a piece solely in that right. Darius seems to take a keen interest in it and her vested interest is likely a result of still reeling from the loss of her mother, for which she takes ungrounded fault. When Darius meets Jeff (Mark Duplass) the man responsible for the ad she instantly realizes that there is much more to him than an insane individual, and becomes intrigued by the passion for which he pursues his desire to travel back in time, even finding herself opening up to him about her own loss. Meanwhile Kenneth deals with his own past ties to the area, attempting to rekindle a high school romance with former girlfriend Bridget (Mary Lynn Rajskub) who brushes him of when he suggests that she come back to Seattle with him to take up within his life. Enraged by his disappointment, Kenneth then goes on an drunken quest to assure that Arnau gets laid, something he believes Arnau should be doing at his young age. Meanwhile, as the intensity of Jeff's plans grow, Darius becomes more emotionally invested in the outcome, only to realize that his past is far more complex and not quite as true as he may have claimed. The confrontations of all the characters come to the forefront moments before the time travel is to take place and Darius decides to commit to Jeff and the two seem to successfully travel into the past, although on a metaphorical level they are far from the only characters to do so.
Many philosophical treatises, particularly those with a bit of Eastern Asian influence seem to adhere to the idea that living in the present is truly the only way to make it through life with any degree of success, and Safety Not Guaranteed is very much a film that considers such notions. No character in the film, for the majority of the film manages to exist in the present, both Darius, Kenneth and Jeff live in their respective pasts, hoping to return to a time in which they could obtain lost loved ones, whether it be parental figures or hopeless crushes. Even Arnau whose careful logic and hesitance is criticized not because it makes him uncool, but because it is a sign of him living in the future and completely missing out on enjoying his present. In fact, it is not until any of these characters manage to absolutely free themselves from their concerns of any other moment but the now that they are able to embrace life, this occurs when Jeff and Darius spend an evening together before the morning of the planned travel, or when Arnau and Kenneth take to a fair in a wild and carefree manner, ultimately, the film makes sure to remind viewers that not all moments can exist in such transcendence, and that often times the pressures of future realities will rear their ugly head as in the case of Kenneth's incessant boss. At other times unfortunate facts about the past will damage the opinions one may formulate about an individual, as occurs when Belinda (Kristen Bell) paints a picture for Darius about the psychologically troubled Jeff for whom she has grown to care for deeply, and if one is honest about it, is this not the basic premise for most time travel films. The closing moments, like some of the classics in time travel, reminds viewers that at moments a perfect unity of occurrences can allow for a truly transcendent and shared experience to occur, even if said experience is something as physically impossible as traveling through time on a decked out hoover craft.
Key Scene: There is a scene in which Darius explains her past to Jeff, in which Aubrey Plaza delivers a performance I saw coming out of nowhere that absolutely makes the movie much more than a sentimental comedy revolving around time travel.
An excellent little film that has been made recently available on Netflix Watch Instantly and is well worth investing a few moments towards.