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:
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 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.
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.