Safety Not Guaranteed
Aubrey Plaza is an actress who was typecast before she was ever given a role, for years now all of her screen-time has been spent playing a specific modern mindset more than characters of any kind. Somehow she was chosen to be pop-culture’s embodiment of contemporary cynicism, she scoffs and rolls her eyes like every teenager to ever exist and she does it wonderfully. It is this fact, alongside her considerable charm and talent, that makes her perfect for playing the lead in Safety Not Guaranteed. Here – similar to her previous best performance as April Ludgate in Parks and Rec - Plaza is not simply placed in the film to be the butt of easy jokes – a stereotyped sigh – but to subvert that status; she stands as both an emotional counterpoint t a different kind of crazy and as someone to be converted. Something made all the more interesting considering that she isn’t just, as usual, embodying disaffected youth here but the very audience in which you sit.
See, Safety Not Guaranteed has the premise of a cold, high-concept comedy: three reporters find a ridiculous ad and seek out the author for a profile piece, hoping to make him that week’s water-skiing squirrel and it’s not hard to see why. Here is the ad, which was really published in a small press magazine:
You read that and laughed, did you not? Then maybe you thought about who would seriously write such a thing and probably gave out a few more giggles. It’s natural, that’s how we are all wired. This movie though is made to counter that modern reaction, that instinctual mocking. It asks you to treat something as silly as that letter sincerely, to treat it’s writer as a real human, to take that risk.
And you do, because all of the actors involved sell you on their characters completely. Darius shepherds you from scorn to sorrow as the film lets the two of you deeper and deeper into the world of Kenneth, a pretty amazing Duplass. He is a ridiculous figure and he does a lot of funny things that you can’t help but laugh at, but these never come at the cost of his character. Had a comedian been cast in the role instead then this would have been an entirely different film, but not necessarily a funnier one.
For me this movie had as many laughs as any other this year, and the audience I saw it with were obviously very entertained, but the comedy rarely came at the expense of. When it did act a little caustically the film usually had the right character in its cross-hairs. It would be easy to simply ridicule the crazy guy but instead it is Jake Johnson’s sleazy lead who we laugh at most, because he is commonly cruelly insulting and so these critiques are merely reflections of his own volleys.
Most people don’t much mind whether or not their comedy has a conscience so long as it is funny, and for the most part I would agree (to an extreme extent. I feel no topic is taboo provided it is handled with wit) but I do like seeing a comedy that cares because it means that we are also allowed to. So when the film stops and allows its characters to speak sincerely we are much more willing to listen and empathize then we would were they slipping on banana peels in the previous scene. Safety very much tries to be a film that is as heartfelt as it is hilarious and so this is both a necessary and brave step for it to take.
Instead of focusing on the cerebral rules and results of literal time travel Safety very cleverly utilizes it’s more metaphorical properties. Speaking of why he wants to go back Kenneth says this: “The mission is to do with regret and mistakes. The mission is also about love.” Regret, Mistakes and Love; those three words very much apply to the movie itself. Nobody here mentions Hitler and the suggestion of seeing dinosaurs because it would be cool is shot down immediately; if the machine is to be used it will be to go back and change certain events in the characters lives, times they took an emotional bet – times they cared – and lost.
This more emotional material lends the movie so much more impact and makes it a much more satisfying experience than if it had simply been a straight comedy, but it will likely also be what stops it from ever achieving massive mainstream success. Its exemplifying of earnestness is so important because of the prevalence of detachment, alienation and Plaza-esque cynicism in the modern audience – we are a people who prefer to hate-watch bad shows, splitting them limb to limb live on Twitter, than love-watch great ones – but it is this same plague that will probably prevent people from opening themselves up to it enough to get the proper experience; a contemporary catch-22. Know this: Safety Not Guaranteed is not a joke and though it is a risk you really should see it and see it with an open heart. It will be worth it, that I can guarantee.