“Safety Not Guaranteed” is a modest little movie from writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow. With a budget well under $1 million, “Safety Not Guaranteed” puts its focus on a smart and witty script and solid performances from its cast. It turns out to be a nice concoction featuring a mixture of drama, romantic comedy, and even a pinch of science fiction. But everything revolves around the characters and that’s where this movie will either sink or swim. Fortunately it does swim.
Supposedly “Safety Not Guaranteed” was inspired by an actual classified ad that was placed in a magazine as a joke. In the movie a writer for a Seattle-based magazine named Jeff (Jake Johnson) and two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a frustrated college graduate with no real direction for her life, and Arnau (Karan Soni) who is only there to diversify his resume, are sent to the small town of Ocean View to investigate and write a story about this unusual classified ad. The ad was placed by someone seeking a partner to venture with him back in time. Knowing the person is nuts yet smelling a good story, the three trace the ad to a seemingly harmless grocery store worker named Kenneth (Mark Duplass).
Now Darius is really the main character here and I thought Aubrey Plaza was very good. Having only seen her small part in “Damsels in Distress” and a little bit of the underwhelming “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, I wasn’t that familiar with Plaza’s work. Her character is very well written but it’s Plaza who brings her to life. Darius is witty and intelligent but she has no sense of place in the world. That’s one reason she can see past Kenneth’s eccentricities and feel genuine sympathy for him. Duplass is also good and I had a hard time figuring him out. Was he certifiably insane? Was he a sad man trying to make up for a sad past? Was he smarter than everyone was giving him credit for? This question is the centerpiece for the entire film.
There are also some scenes featuring some really good humor. Jake Johnson’s Jeff character is for the most part a detestable jerk. He basically took the assignment so he could hook up with an old girlfriend of his that lives in the community. He’s arrogant and pompous but he can also be pretty funny especially when he’s giving Arnau a hard time. Arnau is your typical socially awkward geek who’s more interested in his tricked out gaming laptop than anything else. His dry and low-key lines probably made me laugh more than any other thing in the film. I’m not familiar with anything else Karan Soni has been in but he cracked me up repeatedly.
“Safety Not Guaranteed” is a small but precise little picture that’s very efficient with what it has. Derek Connolly’s smart script actually has a lot more going on than what’s on the surface. I really appreciated that. Now I won’t say that this is a movie that will leave a sweet, long-lasting taste in your mouth. But it certainly is an entertaining picture wrapped in a tight 86 minute package. And in those 86 minutes you’ll find some good humor and heart and I assure you that after the final scene you’ll be smiling just like me. Short, simple, and sweet.