Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED         B                     
USA  (86 mi)  2012  ‘Scope  d:  Colin Trevorrow                    Official site

Another example of what you can do with a sense of humor and a bare-bones budget, this is a Sundance film released with very little fanfare, so little was expected out of this surprisingly obscure film, playing in very few theater outlets.  Set in the Pacific Northwest, editors for Seattle magazine are taken aback by the near absent response for story ideas from new interns, so one of the writers pitches his idea.  Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) suggests checking out the guy who ran a classified ad searching for a possibly armed time traveling partner, claiming he’s done it once before, but “safety not guaranteed.”  Grabbing two new interns, “the lesbian and the Indian,” Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), they’re off on a road journey examining the implications of the existence of time travel, while really undergoing potential shifts in their own cosmic existence.  As is, Jeff is an obnoxious, overbearing frat boy guy, Arnau is a geek never without his laptop, while Darius is an internally damaged Goth girl where morose and downbeat are her regular moods.  Their destination is an oceanside town halfway to the Oregon border (actually shot in Ocean Shores, Washington), a sleepy community that thrives on an equal balance of timeshare condos and endless miles of commercially undeveloped beach, a place with enough sand that you’re allowed to drive your car on the beach.  Staking out the post office box (where the first man to enter the Post Office is the actual man who originally placed the ad), it’s here they track down Kenneth, Mark Duplass, actor and producer of Mumblecore films, known for playing less than fully mature characters, which suits him just fine here, as he’s an ordinary grocery store clerk hiding the fact that he’s really a paranoid recluse who believes the government is always after him.  After Jeff makes an ass of himself trying to convey a feigned interest in the ad, it’s clear he’s really just an ass, so Kenneth tells him to take a hike.  As Arnau needs constant guidance and instruction and is incapable of doing anything on his own, it should have been obvious that Darius was the right choice all along, as clearly her edgy sneer towards anything mainstream suggests she’s more inclined to accept someone off the fringe.     
Darius’s uncanny, laser beam focus on the mission at hand not only grabs Kenneth’s attention Safety Not Guaranteed - film clip "Grocery store ... YouTube (1:21), but establishes the gutsy, somewhat off the wall tone of the film, where the viewer doesn’t really know what to expect.  What is evident is Jeff’s intention to let the interns do all the work while he scopes out an old high school flame (Jenica Bergere) living in the vicinity, where he lets slip that his idea behind this trip is more a vacation than a work assignment, as he’s never once seen writing anything.  This opens the door for side trips, where each character ends up chasing some ambiguous, still undefined dream, perhaps overcoming some past regret that has remained stuck, frozen in time, forever locked in adolescent secrecy due to the complications of adulthood.  For Jeff, his misogynist, womanizing behavior brings him quickies but no real satisfaction, where he secretly dreams of more than just a short term relationship.  To this end, he’s bound and determined to pry that laptop out of Arnau’s hands and get him laid, as that’s the first step to adulthood.  The magic cure?—ply the poor bastard with plenty of alcohol to get his nerve up, as that’s apparently the American way if you follow the drunken misadventures of the HANGOVER movies, where the collective IQ of the American male is continually plunging lower and lower.  But in the La-La Land of movies, there’s always women game for this kind of fun, where sure enough, Jeff and Arnau find some underage girls standing outside the liquor store, apparently all that’s needed, that and a few recreation drugs on hand, to put all of them together in a trippy montage through an amusement park, where life is a fun-filled adventure, culminating with first-time sex where Arnau is likely too blitzed to even remember anything.   

Darius, meanwhile, stays on point, taking an interest in both Kenneth and his wild-eyed project, where he continually gets sidetracked and takes a strangely meandering route to an ever-elusive dream of his own that seems fragile, tentative, hindering on so many undisclosed tangibles that it could just as easily be slipping away. Aubrey Plaza played a minor role as Depressed Debbie, the girl in tap dancing therapy for suicide intervention in Damsels in Distress (2011), but here she carries this picture as the most interesting character in the film, which doesn’t become apparent right away.  First, Darius and Kenneth have to undergo serious time traveling basic training, which resembles a visit to a paintball arcade, but they practice shooting and stamina techniques, becoming more in synch with one another, until lo and behold, to her surprise she quickly discovers there really are government agent guys following Kenneth.  While the boys are convinced the guy is delusional, cut and dry, she begins seeing certain truths about him that lead to a bigger picture, where what he really keeps so hidden away from others is his friendly nature and overall likeability, as he’s a sweet guy that appears to take great pains not to place her or anybody else in harm’s way.  Because that’s so difficult, as people get hurt so easily, he tends to shy away into a reclusive world.  For a girl that tends to believe in the worst, having been let down so often in her life, Kenneth seems much the same way, where the whole idea behind this mission all along was perhaps to fix something that might have made a difference, where really his intentions are motivated by the best in human nature, where feelings of faith take on a science fiction aspect, as they are so foreign to how some human beings operate.  What it really comes down to is the capacity to trust someone, something neither have never been able to feel in their short lifetimes, for good reasons apparently, but the conditions are never ideal or perfect, just like a time travel liftoff, where the question becomes:  are they ready for it now?  This clever narrative written by Derrek Connolly delves into the insecurities that both keep people apart and also join them together, as they’re part and parcel of the same thing, where in this film time traveling becomes the integral part of taking that leap of faith in being human.   

Note – the original ad ran exactly as is in a survivalist magazine Backwoods Home in the mid 1990’s, eventually discovered on the Internet, giving rise to parodies and jokes.  Screenwriter Derek Connolly is a former intern on Saturday Night Live, where he discovered the ad in 2007, growing curious ever since about what kind of person would place such an ad, and also who would answer it?

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