Safety not Guaranteed

A small town newspaper publishes a strange add in it’s classifieds section. It is one of those odd-ball ads that usually end up on reddit where they are proved to be internet jokes, or just silly pranks made by the local kids. The add reads:

safety add

Safety not Guaranteed

A cool-dude editor at a semi-prestigious magazine decides to track down the author of this add write a human interest piece on him. If he is genuinely crazy, it may become a commentary about the state of mental health care. If the add is a joke it could be a funny profile of a newspaper prankster and his exploits. The project gets a green light and so he and so a three people team is dispatched to sleepy Ocean View, WA to track down the supposed time traveler.

The team includes the sleazy reporter Jeff (played by Jake Johnson), and two interns: Arnau (Karan Soni) and Darius (Aubrey Plaza). Once they get there, they get to work immediately: Jeff tasks his interns with doing all the heavy lifting while he goes about reconnecting with an old girlfriend who just happens to live in this town. Darious gets tasked with engaging and befriending Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the author of the add, because she is the only person in the team in possession of a vagina. Arnau writes up field reports and spends the rest of his time being awkward.

Kenneth turns out to be a little stranger than all of them expected. He is definitely eccentric, paranoid and a little bit out of touch with reality. But he does have some really weird equipment in his shed, and his unshakable belief in his story and his intensity about it is almost infectious. He has a way of pulling you into his mad, but very exciting world.


The Movie Poster

The very interesting aspect of this movie is that while it doesn’t portray Kenneth in the best light, it goes out of its way to humanize him. While he is weird, off-putting he is at the same time a pretty nice, well meaning guy. Even if his head may not be completely in the right place, his heart definitely is, and that’s the aspect of him that draws Darius in. Or perhaps it is that she sees a kindred spirit in him. Much like Kenneth, she is a bit of a social outcast. While she does a much better job of passing for normal, she is very much a disengaged and disconnected shut in.

For whatever reason, she finds Kenneth’s intensity endearing. There is a spark and a genuine human connection between the two. You can actually see her entire demeanor change when she is around him. This is actually the only time in the movie we see the normally guarded, curmudgeonly Darius smile. When she is interacting with her coworkers her primary communication methods involve snark, sarcasm and venom. With Kenneth she is sincere and supportive.

In essence, Safety Not Guaranteed is a love story. Aubrey Plazza’s character slowly falls in love with a supposed time traveler. The audience in turn slowly falls in love with Aubrey.


And how could you not…

At least that’s what it seems like until the protagonists realize that they are not the only people following Kenneth around. It turns out his paranoia might actually be well warranted as the trio finds two strange men wearing dark trench-coats stationed outside Kenneth’s house, and following him around town in an unmarked car. Suddenly they find themselves writing an entirely different story altogether…

Personally I would have liked if they pushed the SF elements a little bit more. Kenneth is very unconvincing as a time traveler for the first half of the movie, especially in the light of the big reveal later on. I would have liked to hear him spout out some more convincing pseudo-scientific monologue but I guess this could likely backfire alienating mainstream audiences. As it is, the film is very accessible to just about everyone – especially those who normally wouldn’t see a time traveling movie.

All in all, it is an enjoyable little production. If you like watching Aubrey do her thing on Parks and Recreations, this is your opportunity to see her do something a little bit different, and a little bit less silly. While you probably shouldn’t expect too many laugh-out-loud moments there are definitely a few. Its humor is more subtle, operating with awkward silences, side-way glances, witty dialog and deadpan delivery. The script seems well put together and well executed despite the very small budget and everyone in the cast delivers solid performances.

If you have a chance, definitely check it out. It probably won’t change your life, the way some movies do, but it there are much worse ways to spend a few hours. Side effects move may include: wasting like 4 hours on youtube watching Aubrey Plaza trolling just about every talk show host out there. She definitely has a way of making all her interviews entertaining.

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6 Responses to Safety not Guaranteed

  1. Karthik INDIA Google Chrome Linux says:

    “…especially in the light of the big reveal later on.”

    Ahh, don’t give it away! This is one of those movies where the existence of a twist at the end is itself the twist, and going in with expectations of any genre tropes can only hurt your experience.

    Otherwise, I pretty much agree with you. Mark Duplass really pulled off something special here. I can’t imagine it could have been easy to pen or perform a script that treads the thin line between stereotypes and original, sincere characters. I didn’t realize it was a romantic comedy until an hour in, I didn’t realize it was science fiction until the final act. Basically, not knowing what to expect really made this movie.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    By the way, this is a great hour long interview with the director and Aubrey about the process of making this movie out there. They talk in depth about how the choices the actors made impacted the final product. For example Kenneth was supposed to be much more of a nut, but Duplass wanted to tame him down a bit to make him more genuine and the director went with it.

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  3. Kim Johnsson SWEDEN Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    Just watched this. It was awesome. That is all.

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  4. Spoilers below.

    I finally got around to watching this today. It was better than I expected it to be, but still nothing groundbreaking. Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass had great chemistry going on, and Duplass really made Kenneth an enjoyable character. I was disappointed to not see Jeff’s storyline wrap up. After their morning argument, he just left the woman and that was that.

    When Kenneth finally reveals his true purpose for going back in time — for a romantic love interest — I couldn’t help but think of this interview with Mark Zuckerberg:

    [They] frame it as if the whole reason for making Facebook and building something was because I wanted to get girls or wanted to get into some sort of social institution. […] I think it’s such a big disconnect from the way people who make movies think about what we do in Silicon Valley — building stuff. They just can’t wrap their head around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things.

    Kenneth has to be building a time machine to serve some rather mediocre (by comparison) purpose, rather than because building a time machine would be frickin’ awesome.

    You said you wanted to see more scifi elements. I think I’d actually prefer the opposite: no scifi elements at all. The very end of the movie was completely unlike the rest of the move and felt really corny to me. Rather than the time machine being real, I wanted Darius to have to deal with betraying Kenneth — her original purpose was to write an article after all. Also, maybe he was lying about the time machine, but he really did have honest intentions to solve some other crisis. They would resolve their mutual deception and live happily ever after, or something.

    If they really insisted on that ending, they should have tied more time travel into it, like actually having notes in the secret tin, or their future selves having subtle influence on the events of the movie.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Chris Wellons:

    That’s sort of exactly what I meant – I think they should have went more SF or less SF for maximum effect. They could make the ending more believable if Kenneth was just a tad bit more technical. Kinda like when you watch the dudes in Primer talk to each other, you go “I have no clue what they are saying, but it sounds like they know their shit”. I guess the problem was that they were doing this really on the cheep and it doesn’t seem like any of the people involved had a degree in physics (or science for that matter). If they bothered to get someone with some experience write convincing time travel techno babble… For example Kenneth could talk about the Novikov self-consistency principle showing he actually did some research on time travel without completely dispelling the “just crazy” possibility. That or somehow figure out how to end it without any SF elements.

    But yeah, I agree with your point re: Zuckerberg quote. But I don’t think this is just Hollywood. I think this is most people. Most people don’t actually seem to have that drive to do/build things because it is cool. It’s like when I try to explain to people how open source works, and they just can’t comprehend why someone would spend weeks or months developing something and then post it on the internet for free.

    That’s why I imagine Hollywood film-makers always seek to provide characters with these shallow motives for what they do: so that average Joe doesn’t get confused.

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  6. I forgot to link this in my previous comment. YTMND came up with this movie concept back in 2008 (during YTMND’s prime): Hard Safety. Yes, that is the Don LaFontaine you’re hearing. Some friend of his convinced him to do it and it ended up being one of the last things he recorded before he died.

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