Would you do it? Would you answer this ad? Sure, there’s a chance the guy who wrote the ad is a serial killer just shopping for victims—but what if he’s not? What if the guy is serious, and you get the chance to time travel? This is the question posed in the indie flick Safety Not Guaranteed.
The whole movie is based on an actual classified ad which first appeared in Backwoods Home Magazine in 1997. The “joke” was written as last-minute filler by an employee of the magazine (Jon Silveira, who is credited in the film as “Time Travel Consultant.”) However, first-time feature film director, Colin Trevorrow, got the joke and ran with it. He says, “I have the original magazine it was printed in.”
Safety Not Guaranteed follows a Seattle journalist and his two interns as they hunt down the writer of this mysterious time travel ad to see if the guy’s for real or just a nut job.
The female lead, Darius, is played by Parks and Recreation comedienne Aubrey Plaza. Our time travel guru, Kenneth, is played by cutie patootie Mark Duplass, known as “Pete” on The League, possibly one of the funniest shows in the world.
Darius has always been an outcast; so has Kenneth. As she delves deeper into her investigation, at the coaxing of her journalist boss, Jeff (played by funny guy Jake Johnson), she builds a rapport with Kenneth. They begin to trust each other, and for the first time in both their lives, they’re actually honest with another person. Is this a love story? Not necessarily, although love is involved. Is it sci-fi? Eh. Do you laugh out loud and feel really, really great by the end? Yes. Absolutely.
Jake and I watch so many violent, dark movies; it’s nice to stumble upon a film with some joy. Just like The League (which is based almost entirely on improvisation), much of Safety Not Guaranteed earns its charm from the improvised one-liners of its comedic cast. Lines like “I have no funk. I’m totally funkless” or “What kind of lasers? I don’t know. I’m not a freakin’ storm trooper” add to the allure.
Safety Not Guaranteed is really about connections, though. For instance, Jeff only accepts the time travel assignment in an effort to get back with his high school sweetheart. Darius takes it because she’s always been alone, always been strange, so why not get stranger? And Kenneth, who is painfully alone, is just looking for a time travel pal. Of course, each character gets a lot more than he or she bargained for, which is why the title, Safety Not Guaranteed, is more than an allusion to an ad in a newspaper.
From the film:
Kenneth: To go it alone or to go with a partner. When you choose a partner you have to have compromises and sacrifices, but it’s a price you pay. Do I want to follow my every whim and desire as I make my way through time and space, absolutely. But at the end of the day do I need someone when I’m doubting myself and I’m insecure and my heart’s failing me? Do I need someone who, when the heat gets hot, has my back?
Darius: So, do you?
Kenneth: I do.
Safety Not Guaranteed is not just a movie title; the line refers to life in general. Taking chances, building relationships: these things are dangerous, because whenever we take a leap of faith, there is a chance we could fall, in love or on our faces. In the end, what happens to Darius and Kenneth? Do they really go back in time? You need to see the movie to find out, but remember, in the world of film and in day-to-day living, safety is never guaranteed.