When is a time travel movie not really about time travel? When it’s Safety Not Guaranteed, a love letter to the geeks, nerds and outcasts who were nice and all, but just a little too weird to hang with the cool kids.
Aubrey Plaza (April on TV’s Parks and Recreation) gets a breakout film role as Darius, a bored intern for a Seattle magazine. When staff reporter Jeff (Jake M. Johnson from TV’s New Girl) sees a classified ad seeking a partner in time travel, he takes Darius and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) on a journey to find the ad’s author and get his story.
The movie is based on a real classified ad, placed as a joke in 1997 (by a man who appears briefly in the film). It works best once Darius gains the trust of the curious Kenneth (Mark Duplass), who’s planning a trip back to 2001, and not for the reason you think.
Duplass, a veteran “mumblecore” filmmaker/actor, gives Kenneth a depth that resonates, and Plaza delivers a star-making performance that takes Darius from condescending hipster to caring human being with nary a false note. Their scenes together are never less than touching.
Director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly both make stellar debuts. Their first feature is more about seizing the possibilities of the present than about erasing the mistakes of the past, and they infuse it with heart, soul and wit. (i.e. “She needs to go back in time and kill whoever gave her that haircut.”)
Don’t expect dazzling time-travel wizardry, or you’ll be disappointed. Or maybe you won’t, as the charming Safety Not Guaranteed is bound to win you over.
If you enjoy Safety Not Guaranteed, have a look at 2007’s Spanish import Timecrimes. Like Safety, this film’s most appealing element is its deceptively un-SciFi setting. The offbeat time travel mind bender never actually leaves a single neighborhood, taking a borderline comic approach – think Groundhog Day – to pique tension and engage viewers so that, when the film turns dark, the human aspect of the story goes unforgotten.