Aubrey Plaza spearheads this delightfully offbeat comedy about a man convinced he can travel back in time. Plaza plays Darius, an intern at ‘Seattle’ magazine, who, together with Jeff (Jake Johnson) and Arnau (Karan Soni) head off on assignment to profile a man who placed an ad in the local paper, looking for partners on his time travelling journey.
Safety Not Guaranteed starts out a little shaky – a number of misfiring punch lines opens the film – but then gets better and better as the narrative plays out. The best part of the film is the presence of Plaza herself. I’ve never seen ‘Parks and Recreation’ but I’m familiar with her appearances in Funny People and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, and it’s fantastic to see her in the lead role. Darius’ character isn’t worlds away from what which she has experience in playing – sardonic, sarcastic and seemingly detached from that around her, à la TV’s ‘Daria’ – but there’s an immediate charm present that wasn’t so obvious in her previous work. Her strong and consistent performance evens out the less successful aspects of the film.
What are the less successful aspects? Well, for a start, the character of Arnau is a bit of a non-event. Whilst Darius’ boss, Jeff, and Kenneth, the would-be time traveller (Mark Duplass), are given suitable depth, Arnau is nothing more than a one joke stereotype. As the standard ‘geeky Indian student/virgin’, it’s something we’ve seen before, and he isn’t even given an interesting character arc throughout the course of the film.
Duplass is fantastic in a role that lazy casting agents may have given to the likes of Will Ferrell. If that had happened, sure, the film would have been a guaranteed box office hit (rather than the indie darling this has the potential to become) but he probably wouldn’t have filled the character with quite the pathos that Duplass does. Kenneth is someone you want to laugh at whilst at the same time feeling sorry for him: a tricky balance and one that Duplass nails. As a friend of mine pointed out, it’s also entirely possible that he counts as a manic pixie dream boy, which surely must be a cinema first.
This is another in the increasing number of ‘sci-fi but only barely’ films appearing on our screens and I, for one, am loving this recent trend. As a romantic comedy, Safety Not Guaranteed works remarkably well, and even if the resolution leaves a few unanswered questions, the film certainly ends on a high note. Recommended.Rating: