Friday, June 15, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

The latest entry in the indie quirky dramedy canon has a wallop of a premise.  A Seattle magazine reporter and his two interns investigate a classified ad put out seeking companionship for a time-traveling mission.  Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at this years Sundance Film Festival, Safety Not Guaranteed was directed by first time feature helmer Colin Trevorrow and written by first time screenwriter Derek Connolly.  I'm guessing the Sundance selectors were so wowed by the novelty and originality of the premise, that they were able to get past the first-time jitters that get the better of the films pacing and sense of tone.  Part screwball comedy, part misfit romantic comedy, part half-assed assortments of pathos and part sitcom, it's difficult to make exactly what this weird, if cleverly scripted, film is trying to be.  There's an ace in its corner that elevates Safety Not Guaranteed, perhaps not as a great film, but certainly an interesting one, and one that hopefully, for the better, raises the profile of a particularly alluring young actress.

Her name is Aubrey Plaza, of Parks and Recreations fame, and her deadpan line readings coupled with brainy good looks and a contemptuous sneer offer a pristine and most welcome specimen of 21st century femininity.  She plays Darius, a lowly intern at a second rate Seattle magazine, a social misfit-- perhaps linked to the loss of her mother at an early age-- and gifted, if disconnected, young woman trying to find her place in the world.  She's also ridiculously funny.  She positively hums the sarcastic dialogue that Connolly provides and humanizes and modulates it in such an inventive way, it's very easy to succumb to her shy and nerdy advances.  It's certainly easy to see why Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the lonely, possibly crazy Northwestern grocer who took out the time-traveling ad, would fall for her, and through certain stretches of the uneven and overly pat Safety Not Guaranteed, the film successfully coasts on the natural, oddball chemistry between the two.  Both are disconnected types seeking, if nothing else, companionship and an ironic nod or two while sharing sad war stories.

It's a shame that the film surrounding the likable chamber piece of time-traveler and his girl friday is not at all appetizing.  Jeff (played by New Girl's Jake M. Johnson), the wannabe hot spot reporter chaperoning the story is a shallow and unnecessary cad, and with too much screen time to boot, he never warms up to you as anything more than a stock character on a third-rate sitcom.  The time-traveling conceit itself is stymied as illogical plot holes pile up.  Forget about the what, how, and who, the real question left unanswered is why should the audience care one lick.  Well, the one reason why is the alluring presence of Aubrey Plaza; reasoning is not guaranteed about the rest.  C+

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