An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Review of indie-film “Safety Not Guaranteed”

BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA

When thinking of an indie movie, you might picture a story that takes a more honest approach to life, with maybe a little bit of lighthearted quirkiness added to make you feel like you’re watching something unique.

They are not similar to the more mainstream films, where the “suspension of disbelief” is more fitting. But, once in an enchanting while, an independent film will appear and trapeze on the line that separates the everyday from the miraculous.

Colin Trevorrow’s time-travel comedy, “Safety Not Guaranteed,” stays perfectly balanced on that line. It’s a story about being given the opportunity for second chances when your life doesn’t work out in your favor.

With its fantastical ideas grounded in reality, the film carries a whimsical uplift that shows that even an average, uneventful life can stumble upon something that was only possible in your imagination.

Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) is an unhappy intern at a Seattle magazine. When the publication has the thought to do a story based on an ad by an anonymous person saying he can go back in time, Darius, fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) and Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), a writer at the magazine, decide to take the story.

Once they find the ad contributor, a loner named Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass), Darius volunteers to follow him so she can get information for the article. Once he trusts her with his findings for time travel, Mark allows Darius to help him with his mission. After they start spending some time together, she begins to suspect Mark might not be crazy after all.

Aubrey Plaza’s character is introduced to us as a rather anti-social individual, admitting and showing to us that she was never an engaging person at high school parties, and stayed up all night studying in college while her roommate made out with her boyfriend in the background. She even bombs a job interview because of her inability to be an extrovert.

But, she is a sympathetic character because of that, since many of us, at some point, might have had some trouble interacting with others, so we are able to connect with her on a certain level. It’s fascinating to watch her become Duplass’ loyal confidante, since her interactions with him encourage her to become more of an open person, and this causes him to become more comfortable with himself.

They help each other in the long run. She trades her mad-at-the-world expression for a willingness to share her secrets, and behind her sourpuss personality hides a painful childhood. Through subtle character development, Darius goes from being a wallflower at parties, to practicing shooting and stealing equipment with Kenneth to help build his time travel machine.

Mark Duplass’ character is one who can be described as the ultimate dreamer. He’s like that one neighbor of yours that is closed off from everyone, but is someone you can’t resist to learn more about. His powerful determination in what he is doing has us asking throughout the film, “Is he crazy, or not?”

We hope that he’s not because he has such a passion, conviction and reason for what he does, that we want him to have his breakthrough. He almost has the mentality of a child who’s holding onto an outlandish dream, even when others don’t believe in him.

As it turns out, although he appears and acts like an eccentric scientist, he knows what he’s talking about. There are some clever touches to his character, such as having him and Darius meet at a high school football game to chat about their project goals. This background helps to reinforce his yearning to go back to his high school years and win the heart of the girl he secretly loved.

Derek Connolly’s screenplay lives on the need that all people possess of wanting to step into a machine to go back in time to fix something in order to improve their lives in the future and to get rid of regrets. While we can’t do anything of the sort in real life, what makes the two main characters so moving is that they actually do something to meet that need.

The story also embraces the universal theme of grabbing at the opportunities that come at the most thrilling times in your life, as in a subplot where Jeff teaches Arnau how to pick up women.

Director Colin Trevorrow keeps a consistent tone throughout the film, shifting comfortably between the cheerful moments, like the amusing first meeting between Darius and Kenneth, and the rather darker moments, such as a revelation for Kenneth’s character in the second half of the movie.

Trevorrow gives the relationship between the two leads the time to expand, allowing their characters to mature and open up to each other, and it all leads to an astonishing conclusion. This film is an original little treasure on celluloid that has emerged from the clutter of the summer movie releases.

See it, and it will resonate with you. It’s guaranteed.

Final grade: A