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Thursday, July 19, 2012 12:29 pm

Safety looks longingly at going back to the past

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Aubrey Plaza stars as Darius Britt in Safety Not Guaranteed.

After a certain age, we all acquire a degree of skepticism as our first line of defense against being taken advantage of. Some end up questioning the validity of things more than others. While this may be to our advantage at times, it has its downside. It prevents us from taking a chance on believing in something magical, from accepting an experience that might defy logical explanation as something fantastic. I think that this whole wireless Internet thing is a form of magic that we’ve been conned into thinking follows sound technological principles, but I digress.

Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed deals with characters who straddle this line, those who are reluctant to let go of their adherence to fact and accept that sometimes events defy a logical explanation. Based on a classified ad that ran in a 1997 issue of the Backwoods Home Magazine, the movie follows the adventures of a reporter and two interns who set out to find the person who placed a rather cryptic request in a local newspaper. Reading “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed,” this ad piques the attention of Jeff (Jack M. Johnson), a rather callous newsman who sets out to write a profile of the writer of this ad, sure that he’ll be doing a story on a crackpot. He enlists two interns – pessimistic Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and shy Arnau (Karan Soni) – to head to upstate Washington to track down the author of the ad, get to know him and pen the smear job.

What none of them anticipate is that they all find they have something in common with Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a sweet but rather paranoid man who, like so many of us, longs to go back in time to rectify a grave mistake. While he is most assuredly a beat behind (or is it ahead?) of everyone else, Darius sees in him a kindred soul as she too wishes to fix something in her past. While she’s convinced this is impossible, she can’t help but get swept away by her new friend’s fervent belief that time travel is possible, so much so that she fervently tries to help him make this a reality.

The script by Derek Connolly does have its flaws (why exactly do the reporters lie to Kenneth about their true identity for so long?) but it’s quite smart in the way it portrays human character. It doesn’t take a time machine for someone to live in the past, as evidenced by Jeff’s insistence to ring up an old girlfriend or Arnau’s inability to interact with women due to an event in his past. Playing to the fantasy we all harbor, Connolly wisely examines it from all angles, coming to the conclusion that only in dealing with the past can we move forward.

This is no great revelation but it’s delivered here with a sense of wit and charm that seemingly makes the theme seem fresh. Plaza brings her air of cynicism from TV’s Parks and Rec to the screen but she infuses Darius’ transformation into a reluctant optimist in a genuine and sweet way. Equally fine is Duplass, who fully invests Kenneth with an air of charming lunacy that undercuts any reservations the characters and we might have about him. The chemistry between the two leads is so good it trumps any shortcomings the script may have, including an ending that you’ll either accept as inspired or dismiss as one not in keeping with the film’s theme.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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