Film Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

The problem with a lot of films these days is that they're better before you see them. The excitement I felt about going to see The Amazing Spiderman was way more than I felt while I was watching it. And the film I thought I was about to see as I drove to the cinema to watch Looper was a fantastic action-packed sci-fi film filled with a clever time-paradox plot. What I saw was OK but adding telekinesis in was a bit of a cheat.

So it's rare to find a film that's the other way round. I had no idea what to expect when I went to see the screening of Safety Not Guaranteed, but with a title like that I was worried it was going to be 94 minutes of my life spent watching good looking American teens getting killed. Thankfully I was way off.

It's a film about some people who work for a magazine and go to a small coastal town to investigate a strange chap who thinks he can travel back in time. He puts an ad in a local paper looking for a time-travelling companion.

When the film starts it has a feel of "too cool for school", that kind of attitude where irony outweighs effort; Ben Fold's Five's "Battle of Who Could Care Less" type of deal. It's from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, so you know the kind of vibe I mean. So right from the start I knew it wasn't going to be a dumb film of teen beauty slaughter, it was going to be witty and clever, but even that was an underestimation.

Aubrey Plaza plays the main character, who along with her boss (Jake Johnson) and co-intern (Karan Soni), heads out on this bizarre mission. Some of the scenes with those three were packed with sharp and witty dialogue. Before we were 20 minutes in there had been enough laughs out loud (LsOL?) to chalk this up as one of the funniest films I've seen in a while.

When they meet up with the emotionally damaged potential time bandit (played by Mark Duplass) the laughs gradually become fewer but still keep coming.

w0o5The gaps between the comedy is filled with some delightfully cute moments of awkwardness. And it's not just the relationship between Plaza and Duplass, Johnson's boss character meets up with an old high school flame, and even though he thinks she's let herself go a bit, he bonds with her in a sub-plot that is just as related to going back to your past as the time travel one.

If I were to try and find a flaw it's that the main character is meant to have been this unpopular geeky girl who wasn't in the A-crowd of good looking people (meant to be jealous of the Kristen Bell's of this world). But she's played by Aubrey Plaza. I'm sure every shopper at Forbidden Planet would think, "If only the unpopular nerdy girls where that hot in real life." But that's a thing that happens in films all the time, and you certainly can't accuse this film of being too Hollywood. Forget I said anything.

So, funnier than expected, deeper than expected, and better while watching than while driving to see it. That makes Safety Not Guaranteed one of the best films I've seen in a long while. I'm pleased it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Well deserved.

[Safety Not Guaranteed is released 26 December 2012]



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