Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012) starring Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni and Mark Duplass.

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012) (a dumb name for a picture if I ever heard one) is a film directed by Colin Trevorrow and written by Derek Connolly, starring Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni and Mark Duplass. A cast of plucky unknowns to be sure - at least, unknown to me.

This very pleasant surprise of a film - an independent from last year - came totally out of the blue for me (but then, I'm not very familiar with 'independents'). From the set-up you might think that you're going to see one sort of film when in reality, it's another sort of film altogether. More or less.

Saw this listed on Netflix and since it mentions 'time travel' I took a look at the synopsis and decided - why not? With independents, I can usually tell within the first few minutes whether it's going to work for me. I'm hyper-sensitive to foul language (it is just so jarring to the ear) unless totally necessary and I have low tolerance for bull, not to mention the 'grunge realism' ubiquitous to these sorts of films. I also have a weird sense of humor (I know, I know, everyone says that) which often means I'm the only one laughing.

Question: Is Seattle, Washington really as grungy and moribund as it's depicted in movies? Just wonderin'. I mean, everything reeks of dampness, the people look miserable and let me tell you, the clothing they wear doesn't help matters, neither does their unwashed hair. (That goes for this film as well as the 'set-in-Seattle' thriller series, 'The Killing".)

Obviously I'm very big on 'kempt'. 

But other than these grooming and humidity issues, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is a delightful, fast-paced romantic comedy with hints of sci-fi and no special effects to speak of except for one scene. It's the sort of film that occasionally makes you laugh out loud, but mostly makes you smile and role your eyes. It's not often I can say that a movie with a sci-fi premise is sweetly and gently done, but I'm saying it about this little gem.

Kenneth, an odd loner in a dead-end job - he works for a 'Wal-Mart' type store - places an ad in Seattle Magazine, requesting a partner in a time travel adventure. Desperate for article ideas, the mag's chief editor (Mary Lynn Rajskub from 24)) sends an editor and two interns out of town to investigate the strange ad.

Jeff (Jake Johnson), the cynical, obnoxious and rather foul-mouthed, politically incorrect editor is the sort of thirty-something man who fools himself into thinking he's a wild and crazy guy, primarily because he gets a lot of sex. In truth he's coasting and not tremendously happy. He's returning to the tacky coastal town he grew up in not so much to fulfill the 'Kenneth' assignment, but to re-connect with an old girlfriend.

The two interns are Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a morose young woman with attitude problems and Arnau (Karan Soni), a geeky computer nerd who is not only a virgin but likely to remain so.

Turns out that Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is serious about his proposed hush-hush 'mission', insisting that he's being followed by 'enemies' and must take every precaution to prevent being 'captured'. Hence the 'safety not guaranteed' in the ad.

When the obnoxious Jeff strikes out as the proposed 'travel' partner, he sends Darius in. Bored with everything in her life, Darius is a kind of 'sleeping beauty' type in grungy sweats. 'Everything cool is gone," she says at one point and means it.

She is a remarkably good actress who should be 'going places' if there's any justice in the world.

When Darius and Kenneth form a 'connection' of sorts, he begins 'training' her in weapons near his ramshackle little house in the woods (hence the rolling of the eyes I mentioned earlier).

Slowly he begins to reveal to her, the object of his 'mission'. When asked why she wants to go back in time, Darius says she wants to prevent her mother's death. Kenneth too has a similar plan in play.

The plan involves breaking and entering into a lab ('...the security is a joke.") and getting away with some gadgets he still needs to finalize the time travel machine. (Though if he's 'done it before' why is he just now 'finalizing' the thing?) The lab break-in is hilariously done by the way.

In the meantime, obnoxious Jeff has found his one time girlfriend and at first is taken aback because she's dyed her hair red and put on weight - she's not the blond sylph he remembers. The girlfriend is played with gusto by gloriously zaftig Jennica Bergere. But on second thought, Jeff decides to overlook her 'faults' and take a chance. This makes for a nicely bittersweet interlude and I found myself liking Jeff as he realizes what's missing from his life, but...

The entire cast is just wonderful. Not movie star handsome or gorgeous by any stretch of the imagination, they just look like what they are supposed to be: a bunch of misfits trying to do a job because, really, what else have they got to do?

Don't miss this little movie with a mysteriously memorable 'big' ending, which, in retrospect, seems not so little to me and on triple retrospect, seems just about perfect.


Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog to see what other Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films and/or other audio visuals, other bloggers are talking about today.


  1. I've wondered about this one. I do recognize three of these from TV shows on right now, and I really like Jake Johnson in New Girl (a show I initially hated). In fact, I have a bit of a crush on him. :)

    Thanks for the review. I definitely want to watch this!

  2. Sounds good to me.

    And your sense of humor is just fine. Anyone who loves Enslaved by Ducks as much as you do and can write reviews of Woman in White and The VIPs and love Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin has a great sense of humor.

    I'll put this on my list.

  3. Jenn, this is a delight. Let me know what you think if you see it.

    I don't watch television much so these actors were completely new to me.

  4. Thanks, Kathy. This is the sort of film that comes out of nowhere and makes for a nice surprise.

  5. I didn't see this movie, Yvette, and now I'm intrigued. I'll have to look for it!

  6. Yvette, I enjoy watching movies that "come out of nowhere"—they have a certain appeal about them. I don't know what that appeal is but I just like watching them, like the "parallel" or non-commercial cinema in India. Many thanks for reviewing this unusual film.

  7. Loved this movie. I wold like to see Plaza play a part not based on cynicism and sarcasm though. She should seek one out before she is completely typecast.

  8. Yvette, I haven't seen this one.
    Have been watching MR Selfridge on Sunday PBS. The MR Selfridge
    is an Actor I can not relate to. Wrong man for the part. I am concerned, do you live in Boston? That is juat awful, the bomb stuff. Be well, Be safe.

  9. I have never heard of this one Yvette, but as you say, who's going to remember a title like that? Glad the film is better though - cheers.

  10. Pat, I think you might enjoy it. Just don't expect the usual. :)

  11. Thanks, Prashant. I love surprise movies too. Especially since I'm the sort of person who thinks she's seen just about everything. You know, jaded. Ha.

  12. I think near the end, Patti, she lets go of that persona though. She takes a leap of faith. LOVED that ending.

    But I know what you mean. She deserves to have a varied career.

  13. Yvonne, I live in New Jersey. Not to worry, m'dear.

  14. Sergio don't miss it! If it shows up in your neck of the woods, check it out.

  15. Loved this! It showed up on a list of best of the underappreciated movies of 2012 on some movie website last year. I immediately sought as many of them as I could. This so far is the only one I thoroughly enjoyed. Quirky and witty and surprisingly moving.

    That it was based on a real advertisement is even more bizarre. I rented a DVD version that included a special mini feature about how the film came about, where the ad originally appeared, and the responses that came in over the years.

  16. This has been on my 'check out' list for a while, but we have yet to cross paths (I tend to rely on serendipity) ... now I'll have to get a bit more proactive.
    Have you seen 'Paul' ? ... another "sweet" sci-fi comedy that I thought was much better than the rather tepid reviews it got

  17. This movie was on my To Watch list, so last night when my husband and I were looking for something to watch on Netflix, we watched this. I like Aubrey Plaza, so I'd watch it for her alone. I wasn't sure if my husband would like it, but we both did. Loved the ending! There is still magic left in the world, well, maybe in the movie world anyhow.

  18. John I didn't know it was based on a real ad. Hmmm.....! I wonder what happened? Can you link me to the original information? I watched the film on Netflix Streaming.

    But either/or, I agree completely with you, it was surprisingly moving.

  19. Anonymous: Don't miss it. I haven't watched 'Paul' yet, I'll have to see if it's available.

  20. Joan, I love the ending too! I was hoping for it. I've never seen this actress before, but she dazzled me, that's for sure. She's wonderful.

    So glad you and your hubby enjoyed the movie.


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