Mark Duplass is a very busy man. In addition to his work on the hilarious television program The League, he’s recently been involved in various capacities with Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Darling Companion, Your Sister’s Sister, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, People Like Us, and now Safety Not Guaranteed. I’ve really liked a lot of his stuff, and Safety Not Guaranteed continues that trend.
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) dreams of becoming a journalist, and hopes that her internship at Seattle Magazine will help move her career along that path. It’s a very thankless job and she’s at the bottom of the totem pole, but she’s willing to do anything that might help her get ahead. When a roundtable discussion brings up an unusual listing in the classifieds about a man asking for a companion for a time-travelling adventure, she jumps at the chance to accompany Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) on a trip to seek out its author to get his story.
After tracking down Kenneth (Mark Duplass) to the P.O. box given in his ad, the Jeff, Darius, and Arnau stalk him to his job at a grocery store and then to his house. But when Jeff tried to approach him as a respondent to the ad, Kenneth was immediately suspicious and paranoid. But Darius was much more successful with her attempt, so while Jeff was off attending to his sex life and Arnau’s lack of one, she was surreptitiously pumping Kenneth for information while they made preparations for this alleged time travel adventure.
There’s a lot to like about this film. It’s smart and relatable, but doesn’t rely on quirky, unrealistic dialogue or stupid gimmicks. It’s simple and inexpensive, but doesn’t look or sound cheap, and I particularly enjoyed the faint ticking that’s barely audible in the film’s quieter scenes. But while the central plot with Kenneth and Darius carries the film, the other story lines with Jeff and Arnau, and with Jeff and his old flame Liz (Jenica Bergere), seem largely superfluous. They’re not worthless, but they are a little distracting.
Safety Not Guaranteed shares a number of similarities with another recently-released film, Sound of My Voice. Both are small independent mumblecore films featuring a group of people who intend to exploit a purported time traveler (in the former, to get a good magazine article, and in the latter to expose a cult leader as a fraud). But whereas Sound of My Voice has some legitimate tension at times, Safety Not Guaranteed keeps things light. Both are enjoyable, but I prefer a little more danger than the film had to offer.
Had there been more focus and anxiety, Safety Not Guaranteed would have been a truly great film. But even slightly flawed, it’s still a pretty good movie and well worth your time.