Looking Back at 2010s Films: Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

6 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, here’s Colin Trevorrow’s feature debut “Safety Not Guaranteed.”

As soon as I heard the premise, I immediately wanted to see this film. Magazine reporters respond to a Classified ad asking for someone to assist in time-travel. “Must bring your own weapons.” “Safety not guaranteed.” “I have only done this once before.” I’m hooked.

What I got was a delightful quirky comedy about two lost souls who find each other. One is a bitter, depressed, sarcastic–aw screw it, it’s just Aubrey Plaza (either she’s exactly like the characters she’s playing or she’s just that talented). And the other is an awkward oddball charmer who genuinely believes he can travel through time. He’s played by Mark Duplass. (Fun fact: this was my introduction to Duplass–I didn’t know anything about his filmmaking work in “mumblecore”; at the time, I just thought he was a talented no-name actor.) Plaza goes undercover to respond to Duplass’ ad, earn his trust, find out more about him, and see what he’s all about. I mean, he can’t seriously travel through time…can he? He seems so entirely convinced that he has the resources to do so and that all he needs is a partner…and some lasers, which Plaza reluctantly helps him steal. Whether he’s for real or not, the two form a connection together. Soon enough, I forget all about the sci-fi element that may or may not be present and just focus on the chemistry between these two people.

Oh, and there’s also Jake Johnson as Plaza’s wiseass boss and Karan Soni as a shy intern who of course blossoms over this life-changing road trip. I like these two actors, but I don’t think these characters belonged in this movie at all. Johnson’s subplot about reconnecting with an old flame doesn’t fit, because I’m not sure what he’s supposed to have learned after what should have been a lesson in humility. He doesn’t seem to change. It just feels like filler for a longer running time. (And the film overall is 87 minutes long.) And we know why Soni is there–he’s the nerd who comes of age and has the time of his life, thanks to Johnson. My point is Plaza and Duplass don’t need more support unless it’s helping them advance their story. I feel like Johnson and Soni slow it down.

But the stuff involving Plaza and Duplass is so good, that other stuff doesn’t matter that much.

How does it end? I’ll leave that for you to discover, but I will say it gives us what our emotions want to see in this moment. I’ll admit I was a little on the fence about it when I first saw it…but then I read the original ending from the screenplay online. And I gotta tell you, reading it, I didn’t feel a thing! It made me appreciate the cinematic ending a lot more.

Director/co-writer Colin Trevorrow went on to direct “Jurassic World” and was in line to direct “Star Wars Episode IX”…until his next film “The Book of Henry” flopped hard. (Btw, am I the only one who thinks that isn’t fair? Seriously, one bomb and they fire him just like that? Screw the studio system.) BUT there are rumors going around that they are keeping something from Trevorrow’s script in “The Rise of Skywalker”…they better credit him if that’s true. (Look at Wikipedia–his frequent collaborator Derek Connelly is still credited.)

This is generally what happens when a small-budget indie gets the attention of the big boys–small-time directors get their shot at the big time. Look at Jordan Vogt-Roberts (he went from “The Kings of Summer” to “Kong: Skull Island”); look at Jon Watts (“Cop Car” to “Spider-Man: Homecoming”); look at David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” to “Pete’s Dragon”); look at Josh Trank (“Chronicle” to…”Fant4stic”……he was kicked off of “Star Wars IX” too). There are plenty of examples like that; it’s the Hollywood Zeitgeist.

Maybe that’ll happen to me someday…will I turn it down? I say “yes” now because of stories I’ve heard about how the studio system screws people over more often, but I don’t know…

Where was I? Oh yeah, “Safety Not Guaranteed.” Check it out if you haven’t already!

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