You may recall that several weeks ago, I posted a list of films that I was sad to have missed in 2012 and had you all vote on which five of those films I should review. Your final choices were as follows:
Safety Not Guaranteed
Robot & Frank
I couldn’t have chosen better myself. I’d like to get things started here with my review of Safety Not Guaranteed.
Before I even start to talk about this movie, there’s one thing I’d like to say. If you haven’t seen it yet, please, please give Parks and Recreation a try. It is in my opinion the best comedy on TV at the moment, yet year after year it has suffered middling ratings and come closer and closer to being canceled, only to be saved from the brink at the last minute by a complete and utter lack of viable substitutes. My only advice would be to expect the first season to be sort of lame, but to stick it out for the awesomeness that follows.
Okay… Now that that’s out of my system, here’s my review for Safety Not Guaranteed, starring Aubrey Plaza aka April from Parks and Recreation.
Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.
The chief mechanic of the plot is the “can he or can’t he” question regarding Kenneth’s ability to time travel. The focus switches to character development for the Second Act of the film, but returns back to the Time Travel element with force for the movie’s conclusion. Personally, I thought the resolution of that part of the movie was a little under-played, resulting in the first movie in quite some time that I actually wish had been longer to cover some of the more technical aspects of the premise.
I’ll admit, Aubrey Plaza isn’t exactly the most diverse of actresses. Most of her characters seem like the same sort of permutations of her character in Parks and Recreation as we see here, so your enjoyment of her in any movie she’s in really comes down to whether or not you like April. I happen to love April, so her character, Darius, ended up being one of the strongest parts of the movie for me. Plaza plays Darius as a loner and an outcast, yet she fits in more than enough wit to feel like a very well-rounded character. The way she falls for Kenneth, whether in spite of his weirdness or because of it, feels very natural and brings up the interesting point that if you love someone because they are an outcast, there’s always a chance that you’ll find out that they’re an outcast for a reason.
Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is definitely one of the most confusing characters of the film as we never really can tell whether he’s crazy or brilliant (or likely both). It’s obvious that he’s unstable and paranoid/delusional from the way he practices martial arts and is constantly afraid of being followed by the government, but at the same time he shows more and more vulnerable sweetness to Darius as she begins to get to know him better. I really did like the fact that Duplass doesn’t look at all like your typical actor, it adds a lot to the believability of the character.
I was really surprised by how much I ended up liking Jeff (Jake Johnson) though. At first it seemed like they were going to make his character a one-dimensional asshole, but the more they developed his relationship with and old flame (Jenica Bergere) and the regret he tries to vicariously ignore through Arnau (Karan Soni), the more and more he felt like a very complex and relatable character.
Aside from anything, I’ve got to love the writers for choosing to set the film in my native Seattle, Washington as well as the northern areas of the state which set the stage for the very different Rambo: First Blood over thirty years ago. Being from the area, I can tell you that they got the tone of the area down perfectly; from Kenneth working at a Grocery Outlet to one of the reporters bringing up Seattle’s top 10 dog parks as a potential story for the magazine.
Other than that, the writing will likely be the one thing that makes you either love this movie or hate it. While the sci-fi aspect sets it aside from absolute Mumblecore, it still relies much more on normal-feeling characters interacting with each other than any sort of major plot development. I for one absolutely loved the feeling of earnest emotion the script lent it’s characters, along with the fact that none of the characters feel one-dimensional. One of my biggest pet peeves in movies is when a large number of characters are defined by one or two attributes and nothing else. This is absolutely not the case here.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 Superior
+ Wonderful, well-rounded characters across the board
+ Plaza is extremely likable in her own very unique way
+ A lot of great chemistry between Darius and Kenneth
- The ending felt a bit too abrupt for me
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
The Bishop Review: 4.5/5
The Cinematic Katzenjammer (2): 8.5/10
Cinematic Katzenjammer (1): 8.0/10
Andy Watches Movies: 4/5
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 7.5/10