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Drew Tinnin

March 14th, 2012

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is a departure of sorts for both its leads, Aubrey Plaza (FUNNY PEOPLE, Parks & Recreation) and Mark Duplass (HUMPDAY, The League), who both portray characters that steer away from what both actors are most known for, though their usual charm is still very much in place. Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly (SAFETY's director and writer, respectively) allow both leads to do what they do best, while still adding a nice touch of quirky and a little heart to a film that is (partly) based on a true story.

If you aren't already aware, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is inspired by an actual classified ad looking for an assistant to help an inventor of time travel in his mission to return to the past for a secret mission:

The nature of that mission, though still a mystery, is perfect fodder for a young writer like Connolly (who wrote the lead specifically for Plaza) to sink his teeth into. Plaza reigns over her role as "Princess of the Joyfully Disenfranchised" (the cute aloofness she is best known for) within the framework of an adventure story that also allows her to stretch her wings emotionally. Long story short, if you weren't crushing on Aubrey Plaza before you get a chance to see SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, you'll be lining up for her lipstick-kissed autograph in no time.

Duplass also does fine work here.  He moves beyond those parts where he is essentially playing himself  (a relatable, affable Average Joe) to the role of Kenneth Calloway, a seemingly do-nothing cashier whose eccentricities facilitate long-winded ramblings on the nature of space and time (amongst other untethered thoughts). Once you get to know Kenneth, he's actually quite lovable albeit borderline insane.

Or is he? Once Plaza's character (magazine intern Darius Britt) and her colleagues track down Calloway for an article, she becomes enamored with his earnestness and begins being swept up in his delusions, slowly learning that Kenneth Calloway mat not actually be nuttier than a Corsicana  fruitcake. Jake M. Johnson  (Jeff, a journalist) is a writer bored with the day-to-day of being a newspaper man who turns their work trip into a personal quest to change something in his past, all while encouraging Darius and Arnau (Karan Soni, playing a shy intern who doesn't realize he's letting his youth pass him by) to take chances and grab life by the horns. In other words, Jeff is a lovable asshole who uses this opportunity to impart some wisdom and even do some soul searching of his own.

Connolly's script steers clear of being too far-out, which must be considered an accomplishment considering how idiosyncratic Duplass' Kenneth is as a character, yet it still manages to get at the heart of SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED. Essentially, SAFETY's draw comes from watching two characters (an awkward girl with a lot of love to give and a capricious thirty something) who somehow meet in the middle due to extraordinary circumstances. It's a coming-of-age story for the middle-aged; it's also a story about finding your place in the world.

Kenneth has never adhered to the social clock, preferring to beat his own drum while still believing he is capable of great things. Although they never intended it, every character is affected by Kenneth in a profound way by the end of SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED; course-correcting their lives to line up with the path they should have been on all along.


Grade: A



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