Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Written by Derek Connolly
The word “regret” is often tied to any number of negative feelings and emotions which can range from small to big, from regretting that you ate desert tonight and now you’re overly full to regretting that you didn’t stay in touch with friends, or that you let “the one” get away. Everybody has regrets in their lifetime. The only difference is how you react to them, how you handle them, and how you move forward past them. And with that last one, we actually start to see the possibility of redemption and happiness, two feelings, two emotions which certainly have a positive connotation, which are certainly things worth pursuing in this life. Safety Not Guaranteed is a film all about regret, but it manages not to be a sad one because it is filled with hope.
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is going through a rough patch in her life. She is a young, twenty something living in Seattle, but she doesn’t go out with friends, still lives at home, and still mourns the loss of her late mother. She interns at a local magazine where one of the writers, Jeff (Jake Johnson) recruits her to help with a potentially comical article about a man from Oceanview, an article which is also an excuse to attempt to rekindle an old flame for Jeff. The man in question, later found out to be Kenneth (Mark Duplass), took out a want ad for a partner with whom to time travel, but with two stipulations: bring your own weapons and safety not guaranteed. Darius is chosen as the one to infiltrate this strange man’s life as a potential partner after Jeff fails miserably, but soon Darius finds Kenneth isn’t all that different after all.
The quirky, indie, comedy-drama has been done many times, and can often annoy a certain crowd who find its tactics cringe-inducing, and I would have to agree because from time to time these type of films can evolve to the point that they are simply doing something because it’s either weird, different, quirky, or indie instead of because it means something to the narrative or adds anything to the overall feel or atmosphere of the film. Safety Not Guaranteed is probably not a film that is going to win over those who do not already like the genre, but it is a perfect example of how to make one of these films. It is done with a great cast, with a great pace, and a great soft touch of emotion, just the right amount to supplement the off kilter comedy and slightly awkward romantic relationships.
The assumed simplicity of the plot quickly reveals itself to be not necessarily complex, but certainly deeper than originally presented. As a result, the short, 85 minute runtime keeps the viewer on their toes as we learn a little bit more from each character, and there are some great performances in here too. I am going to marry Aubrey Plaza someday. She may not know it yet, but I do. I love her deadpan style of humor and am glad to see her handling a leading role quite nicely. Jake Johnson has been popping up a lot lately (he is great in New Girl as well), which I greatly appreciate because he is hilarious too. But the real scene stealer is Mark Duplass, who has already made a name for himself in the indie world alongside brother Jay Duplass. His sincere delivery of a character in a questionable mental state works beautifully alongside Plaza. If I had one qualm with the cast though, it would be about the seeming unnecessary Arnau (Karan Soni), whose contributions were limited, and I do mean limited, to mere comic relief, and average comic relief at that.
What makes this film work so well is its heart. It tackles the questions of regret, which face each of our main characters, and in some cases it throws it right back in their face. Bouncing back from regret is the most important step. When I sat down to write this review, I looked at an article of the Top 5 Regrets People Have on their Deathbed. Pretty ominous stuff, but the one that really stuck out with me and who I am as a person, and as it relates directly with this film, is the #1 regret: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Sometimes this is the hardest thing to do, to embrace our own identity, our own inner-weirdess, and don’t you dare scoff at that remark, we all have it. Oh, and did I mention the ending is perfect?