Time travel is hard. Watch any time travel movie and no matter how cool it is, eventually it will stop making sense. You’ll begin to believe that the events leading up to the time travel must continually repeat themselves so that the time travel is possible. Or you’ll start to wonder about alternate timelines, or you’ll try to come up with a better ending for Looper. And the third time you bring up The Terminator at dinner your friends will avoid eye contact with you for the rest of the evening.
Then there’s Safety Not Guaranteed. It’s a time travel movie in which you’re never sure if it’s a time travel movie at all. Is it an unconventional romantic comedy? A coming-of-age story? A parable about the dark side of nostalgia? The answer is that it is all of these things. A young girl, Darius (Plaza), is an unhappy intern at Seattle magazine. When one of the writers, Jeff (Johnson), is sent an amusing ad from a local newspaper requesting a partner for time travel, he takes Darius and the incredibly shy Arnau (Soni) with him to track down the person who placed the ad. Kenneth (Duplass) is not quite what they expect and when Jeff convinces Darius to pretend to answer Kenneth’s ad, she finds herself oddly drawn to him.
This film was something of a festival darling last year and it’s easy to see why. It’s a skilful blend of romantic and indie comedy, and puts the generic conventions of both to good use by adding the science fiction elements. Plaza and Duplass have a strange chemistry, and their believable and likeable performances move the story forward without seeming too weird or ridiculous. And while it could be argued that Plaza and Johnson are essentially playing April Ludgate and Nick Miller (from Parks and Recreation and New Girl respectively), director Trevorrow has used their television personas perfectly to tell this off-kilter story of love and second chances.
With excellent performances, a cute soundtrack and plenty of oddball laughs, Safety Not Guaranteed will have you wishing for a ‘person seeking time travel partner’ section in the newspaper. Heck, it might even have you starting one yourself.
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Mark Duplass, Karan Soni
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Reviewer: Sallie Pritchard