Time travel movies generally belong to the geeks. Back To The Future, 12 Monkeys, Donnie Darko… With Safety Not Guaranteed, though, geeks are just going to have to accept it – time travel has been pinched by independent film. And thank goodness for that.
A unique, offbeat genre-splicer, SNG is entirely its own thing. That much is clear from the offset with the involvement of mumblecore kid Mark Duplass, the writer-director of improv dramedies Baghead and Cyrus. Here, Duplass swaps writing for acting as Kenneth Calloway, a loner who believes he’s discovered the secret to time-jumping. All he needs is a co-pilot, which is what prompts him to post an ad in the paper in search of one.
That ad is discovered by cocky magazine worker Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), who recruits two interns – mopey twentysomething Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and uber-nerd Arnau (Karan Soni) – to help him get his story. Except then Darius starts to get close to Kenneth, who may not be as crazy as he at first seemed.
Safety Not Guaranteed debuted at this year’s Sundance Festival to rave reviews, and it’s not hard to see why. Though the time travel aspect offers a zesty sci-fi twist, SNG is really an amiable, affecting character drama with bags of heart. Much of that comes courtesy of Darius and Kenneth’s unfurling relationship, which is sensitively navigated with all schmaltz thankfully trimmed.
Most impressive is Plaza, who’s been trading acerbic barbs on the big and small screen lately in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Damsels In Distress and TV show Parks And Recreation. Here, she shaves down the hard edges of her previous screen-carnations, emerging as a quirkily winsome and unconventional leading lady.
If all this sounds vaguely sombre and meandering, fear not: SNG is also laugh-out-loud funny. Whether it’s Jeff’s motor-mouthed insults or the ludicrous training activities Kenneth puts Darius through, there are more laughs in SNG than most comedies you’ll see this year. The final scene is also pure unadulterated joy, and ensures you’ll leave the cinema with a big grin on your face.
That Safety Not Guaranteed even works is, in itself, a miracle. With its mash of romance, comedy and sci-fi, not to mention big themes and many mysteries, it should really be a jumbled muddle. First-time director Colin Trevorrow makes it look easy, though, and his film is a peculiar, idiosyncratic vision that’s tender and refreshingly original. Welcome to the cult classic of tomorrow… 4/5