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The Independent Critic

Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, Karan M. Soni, Jenica Bergere
Colin Trevorrow
Derek Connolly
Rated R
86 Mins.

 "Safety Not Guaranteed" Review 
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It's not often that I arrive at the end of a film and find myself so completely consumed by the film's characters that I sit there wishing I could hit rewind and watch it all over again.

Yet, such was the case with Safety Not Guaranteed, a film that will defy your expectations while capturing both your heart and your imagination all at once.

Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is a grocery clerk in his mid-30's living rather quietly in the home of his late parents while working with almost singular focus on a project of utmost importance. He places the following ad -

WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.

The ad catches the attention of Jeff (Jake Johnson), a rather cynical writer for Seattle Magazine who ends up recruiting two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), to help track down and interview the unknown author of this mysterious ad. While Jeff quickly alienates himself from Kenneth, Darius's overt directness and sarcasm seems to tap into something with Kenneth and the two connect in a way that transcends the usual schmaltzy rom-com drivel. Safety Not Guaranteed is part rom-com and part sci-fi, but in the end it's such a richly developed, intellectually satisfying and heartfelt film that you'll find yourself not giving one iota about its genre and just being grateful that occasionally Hollywood gets it right and releases a truly unique and inspired original film.

Safety Not Guaranteed was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year and captured the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for Derek Connolly, whose script here may be one of the most surefire Oscar nominees I've come across in quite some time. To reveal too much of the film would be a grave injustice, for such an inspired film deserves to be experienced rather than preached about in a film review. Suffice it to say that Safety Not Guaranteed fires on all cylinders with a script that is simultaneously intelligent, sensitive and funny and performances that capture just the perfect amount of nuance to pull off such a challenging story in a way that makes it remarkably humane.

Mark Duplass, who started off with writing and directing such "mumblecore" critical faves as The Puffy Chair and Baghead, has become quite the actor of late with notable appearances here and in Darling Companion, Your Sister's Sister and People Like Us. He grows as an actor in each film, and his performance here is so grounded in authenticity that the humor that bursts forth is naturally developed and well earned. This role could have been a disaster, but Duplass has always had a remarkable knack for tapping into the rather miraculous spirit of society's oddballs and making them feel like people you really want to get to know.

He does it again here.

As good as Duplass is, Safety Not Guaranteed may be the breakout performance for Aubrey Plaza. Plaza is mostly known for her work on Parks & Recreation, but here she offers a performance that is outwardly cynical and sarcastic yet so intimate and revealing that you can also see the inner vulnerability and sweetness that bubbles underneath everything she shows the world. It may very well be too quiet of a performance to be considered award-worthy, but it's a remarkably satisfying performance that will hopefully at least be remembered when it comes time for the Independent Spirit Awards.

While Duplass and Plaza stand-out, there's not a weak performance in the bunch. Karan Soni takes what could have easily been your typical Indian sidekick performance and breathes life and energy into the young man, while Jake Johnson also avoids turning Jeff, arguably the closest thing we have to a "bad" guy here, and keeps him from actually becoming a bad guy. Jenica Bergere is also quite good as Liz, an old flame of Jeff's with whom he desires to reconnect on some level while on his assignment in Ocean View, Washington.

You may find yourself thinking that the whole idea behind Safety Not Guaranteed sounds a bit too absurd or silly, but rest assured there's so much more here than you will be expecting. The producers of Little Miss Sunshine are involved with this film, while I also occasionally found myself reflecting upon Garden State, another of my favorite films from the past 10 years.

Along with Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, Colin Trevorrow's Safety Not Guaranteed is almost a guarantee to wind up in my Top 10 films of 2012. One of the few films this year to truly satisfy from beginning to end, Safety Not Guaranteed is the kind of film where you leave the theater simply having to tell your friends about it and then you head back to the theater with them just so you can experience it for yourself one more time.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic