*Warning: This Review Contains Mild Spoilers*
While it has certainly been a week full of blockbusters and of course I’m anticipating the many more that are coming in the next few weeks, there’s always an indie film that will usually slip under the radar unnoticed only to never be heard of again. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a trailer for this prime example of that type of film before a screening of the classic Gone With The Wind and immediately wanted to see it. And when you want to see a film like this, you appreciate living in LA, where two theaters (of only nine theaters in the entire country) are playing it. So, will Safety Not Guaranteed slip under the radar only never to be heard of again? Yeah, probably. But is it any good? Well, read on. Safety Not Guaranteed follows a team of three reporters for a Seattle magazine who go on a trip to investigate an ad in the classifieds claiming that a man needs someone to travel back in time with him.
The best thing about this film is probably its cast. Most of the characters are generally well-developed and
accessible, making it easy for the audience to get engrossed with them. Instead of spending time on the intricacies of time travel technology, this film takes most of its short runtime to develop its characters (unfortunately, due to a lack of closure, the arc can’t be finished… but more on that later) so that by the end, you actually care for who’s on screen. Sure, there’s one-trick-ponies like the Indian video-gaming intern Arnau, played wonderfully by Karan Soni to many of the best laughs in the film, but there’s also complicated and wonderful characters like Darius, Jeff, and Kenneth, all played perfectly by Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, and Mark Duplass. Plaza’s nonchalant attitude but secretly longing heart lights up the screen in the scenes she’s in, and she makes a good protagonist for the audience to fall in love with. However, it’s often Jake M. Johnson who walks away with the scenes he’s in, giving some emotion to a character the could’ve simply been a suave, I’m-to-good-for-this type of reporter. Finally, there’s Mark Duplass, who plays our time-traveling Kenneth with a wonderful weirdness to him, and its good that he shares very few scenes with Johnson, because he walks away with almost every scene he’s in as well, whether it be shooting guns, playing an odd instrument, or simply talking about his vintage Star Wars action figures. If you seek out this film, you’ll definitely enjoy the characters, and, until the last few minutes of the film, they have great stories. But in those last few minutes is where the true problem of this movie lies.
The story in this film, as I hinted at earlier, sets itself up to be a time-traveling movie, where the screentime is more focused on the details of those travels (a la Back To The Future) rather than the actual relationships. However, it’s actually reversed. And as a fan of time travel films (Back To The Future makes the list of my five favorite films of all time), I can’t say that that was what I signed up for, but I actually quite enjoyed the fact that Safety Not Guaranteed is actually a character study of quirky people in a quirky premise, and I like that it explores the dramas beyond time-traveling adventure, like the reasons for going back among other things.
What I didn’t enjoy is that there’s a point when the film decides to stop being that character study. In the final minutes of the film, after the film has set so much up in way of relationships, subplots, and has even thrown a few really good twists at us, it decides to stop being the character study it was in order to rush its way towards a convoluted, frankly unsatisfying ending that falls flat. I see where they are trying to go with this film, but it doesn’t have the right to not wrap up any of the stories it set up for us, with out giving us a clue as to what is the future of the characters you might have actually grown to like. Thus, character arcs that were once impressive are left incomplete. Interesting what a few minutes can do to the entire experience of a movie, right?
However, that being said, the movie has a lot of heart, sharp writing, good direction, and some really funny moments. As I said before, there are some good twists that just aren’t really followed up on and there are some really good characters that aren’t followed up on either. However, they are still good twists and good characters.
As a sum of its parts, Safety Not Guaranteed is a smart, well-made film with heart, character, and good acting. However, it can be argued that the ending is one of the most important parts of the movie experience and with that said, it’s something this film completely botches. Overall, though, I’d certainly recommend checking it out if you can find it, but beware: you will probably be disappointed by the final moments.
FINAL GRADE: B
FINAL SAY: Though its ending is rushed and unsatisfying, Safety Not Guaranteed is not just a film about time travel; it’s a film full of well-developed and well-acted characters and heart, under a well-written script and good direction.