68.1 F
Sunday, September 25, 2022
Home Blog Popcorn Parent Movie Reviews Family Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed (R)

Family Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed (R)

SafetyNotGuaranteedFamilyMovieReviewKernel rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: R     Length: 94 minutes

Appropriate for ages 13+. Sexual references, some underage drinking, and enough profanity to earn its R rating.

If youth is wasted on the young, so too are indie dramedies about recapturing wasted youth. With its dream-meme premise and fresh prime-time talent, Safety Not Guaranteed nonetheless has more to offer aging hipsters than to a rising class of Gen-Z teens.

By Jared Peterson

It begins with a cryptic classified ad seeking a partner for an unspecified adventure in time travel. “Bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed.”

Cynically intrigued, a fluff magazine reporter, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), heads to a coastal Washington town to pursue the story, dragging along two interns: the painfully shy Arnau (Karan Soni) and darkly disaffected Darius (Aubrey Plaza, of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”). Jeff figures the ad and the story for a joke; his main goal is to reconnect, if you know what he means, with an old flame who lives nearby. Darius, only slightly less enthused by the assignment, represents in many ways the typical Gen-Y lost soul, just now getting cozy with the ennui of post-millennial life.

When they track down Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the time traveler, they find exactly the oddball they (and we) expect. Skittishly intense and geekily serious, he indeed believes he’s cracked the secret of time travel, and has planned a mission to the past to right a wrong and revive a lost love (of course). Compared to Darius and Jeff, who’ve both retreated into cynicism, Kenneth’s reaction to the shocks and scars of life is bizarrely proactive. He is a purist seeking same, and as Darius gets deeper into her undercover role as his partner, she softens to the romance of his unwavering commitment to impossibility. The question of whether it will work becomes less important than what it means if it does.

Along with some clever dialogue, much of the charm of Safety Not Guaranteed comes from its actors, many of whom hail from the small screen. Jake Johnson, best known for his role on the Fox sitcom “New Girl”, brings a volatile desperation to Jeff, taking deadpan and fashioning it into a bear trap set to a hair trigger. Mark Duplass, who appears on the FX series “The League”, uses his wounded bunny mug to convey Kenneth’s childlike purity and the deeper wells of sadness that fuel his quest. 

Then there’s Aubrey Plaza. The triumphant rise of NBC’s “Parks and Rec” has gone hand-in-hand with the blossoming of Plaza’s character April from a stone-faced teen stoic into a three-dimensional person who, like, kind of cares about things, sort of. In the film as on the show, her emotional ground state is somewhere near absolute zero, such that any trace of bemusement, curiosity, or empathy feel like a private gift and a rare privilege. With dark saucer eyes and flattened affect, she draws you in and makes you work, making her one of the most watchable actresses out there.

The time travel ad, which actually appeared in a magazine’s classifieds and later blew up as an internet meme, is an awesome story starter, clever and infinitely relatable. The film’s title is also the truism at its core. Of course there are no guarantees of happiness, love, or acceptance, and no certainties save the one that says time always moves forward. Kenneth’s bizarre activities, as well his reasons for doing them, could all be fictions. But his underlying goal—to erase regret through technical means—is both universal and a bit obvious. Unfortunately, neither writer Derek Connolly nor director Colin Trevorrow get up the steam to explore any one of its implications fully. Some characters and plot elements feel like sketches or, not surprisingly, memes—clever ideas that rest on the fleeting merits of their familiarity or quirkiness, their possibilities scrolled by and forgotten.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Tips From our Sponsors

Stay Connected


Most Read