I’m almost certain that everyone has something they’ve done that they’ve regretted and wanted to go back and change. A lost love, a horrible business decision, maybe even a decision that changed your life for the worst. Well, what if you had found a way to travel back in time to fix it? Safety Not Guaranteed expands on this notion and delivers a truly original spin to the idea of time travel.
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) has always been someone who has been deeply sad and doesn’t see any change coming to it. Even as an intern for a Seattle magazine, she doesn’t even think she will accomplish much, even though she is smart and aggressive. That is, until the day that writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) discovers a classified ad so weird that it can possibly be unbelievable. Requesting two interns, Darius recommends herself as does Arnau (Karan Soni) for the assignment. But it isn’t long before both of the interns realize that Jeff has taken notice of the ad because its location (Ocean View, Washington) is the same place where Jeff lost the one woman who got away.
Still, despite the situation, he still tries to be professional about the assignment at hand. After investigating, they come upon Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a lonely supermarket stocker, being the writer of the ad. After Jeff unsuccessfully tries to persuade Kenneth that he wants to go back with him (Kenneth sees right through him), he decides that Darius will have to convince him. After she confronts him at the supermarket, he soon realizes that she is the kind of person who is actually willing to go back in time with him.
Now leading two sides of the story, Darius is reporting back info to Jeff and Arnau as well as following Kenneth on his rigorous training for going back in time. At the same time, Jeff is off trying to find the woman who got away. Her name is Liz (Jenica Bergere) and its this subplot that will most likely let you know how the film plays for you. It takes up quite of bit of the film’s runtime, but at the same time, I thought it was a perfect counterpoint to the main story at hand. In many ways, this is Jeff wanting to go back in time to see if there was something there that could have been developed. Sure, it ends up being a detour, but it ends up working because it is something that plays out a lot like life itself.
When the film is focused on Darius and Kenneth, the story is lifted completely into the air. Plaza and Duplass display real chemistry on the screen, and there is a point in the movie where they both reveal to each other why they want to go back in time that has so much truth to it that you even believe Darius’s reason for wanting to go back. Sure, it may possibly be false, but that’s beside the point. Her monologue is so sincere that you can’t help but resonate with it. Credit both director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly for giving this scene as much power as it has.
Sure, the movie also has some other terrific scenes throughout, like when Darius and Kenneth steal a device that will help the time machine work, and I haven’t even mentioned the agents who are following Kenneth throughout the film. Kenneth knows he is being followed, and although the reporter and the interns are at first convinced that he is crazy, it soon turns out the Kenneth’s instinct is correct. The tension of those scenes is absolutely perfect, and all of that leads to a few revelations along the way (Which are best kept secret until you see the movie, although I will say that one of them involves a character played quietly by Kristen Bell).
And then there’s the end of the film. Without spoiling it, you’ll be completely bowled over by everything that you see in the film’s final minutes. All of the film’s main characters are witness to an ending that absolutely will make you wondering , and yet at the same time, will leave you absolutely stunned. I was simply in awe of the film’s whole ending, which is executed with both perfect tension and perfect execution.
As a whole, Safety Not Guaranteed is a film where everything just works. Sure, it still has its flaws (namely a brief scene where Jeff tries to get Arnau some sexual action, which seems so brief that it goes nowhere), but the majority of the movie left a big smile on my face, and the performances from Plaza and Duplass are simply spectacular (In particular, Duplass is having a great year with films like this one and the upcoming Your Sister’s Sister. He is finally becoming a force to be reckoned with as an actor). Like I said, this is a truly original spin on time travel because there really is no time travel in the story. The time travel is here to only be in the background. It’s a story about flawed people who are looking for solutions to their problems and believe that they might have been left in the past. It’s almost always about the characters and not the concept, which is what makes Safety Not Guaranteed so successful as it ends.
Safety Not Guaranteed is a thinking person’s movie. I’m glad that the end was left up to my own mind. As the film ended and the credits started rolling, two young women in the row behind me complained about the ending, saying that they wanted more. “It’s not fair,” they complained. Without turning my head, I said loud enough purposely so they could hear, “It’s fair.” Without a doubt, this is one of the year’s very best movies.