Film review – Safety Not Guaranteed

From a writer and director team who met while interning on US comedy show, Saturday Night Live, comes this light-hearted tale of pursuing happiness and idealised times past.
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a young woman and self-confessed social misfit who misses the enjoyable innocence of childhood, now newly graduated into a world of overqualified unemployment and demeaning “internships”, the latest for a generic lifestyle magazine that punts out unimaginative stories. In an editorial meeting, reporter and (kinda) office alpha male, Jeff (Jake Johnson) offers up a pitch to reply to a wanted ad asking for someone to join the advertiser to travel in time, with weapons training required and “safety not guaranteed”. One piece of obnoxious characterisation-building selection of interns later, Jeff has selected Darius and south-Asian computer nerd Arnau (Karan Soni) to join him in finding the person behind the ad and to write the story.
That person is Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a 30-something with the passion for his time-travel scheme that a kid has for organising make-believe games in the outdoors. Darius goes undercover, submitting to Kenneth’s child-like weapons training games in the forest and on the beach in scenes that conjure up the halcyon days of 80s action adventure movies – indeed, this is a gentle love letter to that era. Kenneth is in a universe divergent from other people, a loner living in his old family home in the forest, building his time machine from old laboratory junk so that he can go back and pursue the course of true love, setting right what once went wrong, so to speak.
Aside from this, a slightly weak sub-plot sees Jeff letching after a local ex-girlfriend from his teens, but he finds not all is what it was, stuck with an idealised memory from his youth that is preventing him from being happy. He resorts to teaching hedonism to the introverted Arnau, a character there to provide entertainment in the style of Raj from TVs The Big Bang Theory, representing any of us who may not yet have done “craaazzy” things in life.  What sounds like trite rediscoveries-of-self amongst the daily grind disappear under the charm of Darius’ burgeoning relationship with Kenneth as she warms to his earnest, innocent and pure belief in what he is doing – an antidote to the disappointment and apathy in her own life. It’s a credit to Plaza and Duplass that they conjure so well those feelings of an innocent teenage crush.
There are some beautiful moments  of cinematography on the beach, with romantic sunshine breaking across the camera lens, and misty, lush forest landscapes. However, there was one hiccup in an early indoor scene between Darius and her father – the skin tones appear blurred and pixellated , perhaps a camera problem or something in post-production. Regardless, this is an utterly charming tale and an indie film thankfully devoid of the mumblecore hipster chic that has dominated indie cinema of late. 

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