REVIEW: Safety Not Guaranteed (2011) - 2nd Opinion

Back in 1997 a bored John Silveira wrote a fake advert for the magazine he worked for, Backwards Home Magazine.  It requested company to join an unidentified person to head back in time.  If you used the Internet early last decade you would have seen the meme it inspired, usually tagged underneath a photo of a guy with a terrible mullet.  Or you can just look at the poster for it with the ad itself.  Along with a humorous selling attempt with the declaration of ‘I have only done this once before,’ it finished with the line that has inspired the title of the film. And now a couple of filmmakers have attempted to bring life to this fictional ad that never had any reality attached to it to begin with.

Critics have largely discussed this as a film representing fading dreams, rather than the time travel film that the poster would allude to.  They’re right, that’s no question at all.  What the problem specifically is is a complete lack of self-awareness that removes any integrity the characters could possibly offer.

Darius Britt is a bored twenty-something (the central motif of the film) that is forever unemployed because she’s too honest in interviews.  Working as an unpaid intern for a magazine under a shitty boss – we’ve all been there, more or less – she is offered a dangling carrot when one of the writers, Jeff, offers to write a story about the ad in question, something that has only just been published recently in 2012.  He asks for two interns and she’s obviously chosen as one of them.

Aubrey Plaza is slowly gaining in exposure and it’s well deserved.  Currently killing it in TV land on Parks & Recreation her deadpan delivery is gaining new fans quickly and this is a good springboard to launch her arrival as a leading actress in comedy.  Darius Britt is just another addition to the kind of character she’s been selling herself as, more or less, for the past few years.  Which is basically Michael Cera with balls.  I mean this in a good way.

Jeff is played by increasingly annoying Jake M. Johnson.  He’s best known as Nick in The New Girl and is the weakest link in an otherwise occasionally dull program.  As Jeff he is an early-thirties magazine writer sharing in the same disillusionment that his interns carry.  Spending his spare time by engaging in one night stands with women that don’t inspire him, including his own boss, he later reveals he has no interest in the project at hand and only suggested the trip so he could reconnect with an old college girlfriend.  His disillusionment seems to break the fourth wall and express Johnson’s own boredom with the film itself, vacantly speaking lines in what one can only guess is a poor attempt to match Plaza’s own deadpan.

I really wanted to like this film.  I’ve been looking forward to this film since I knew it existed earlier this year and was sold by Plaza’s inclusion alone (seeing that ad again was a huge “whaaaaat?” moment).  But I instead found myself increasingly tired of the films antics as it approached the ending.  What should have been cute was lame, where the cue card read “nawwww” I sighed.  There’s no pivotal scenes moments that make you connect with the characters.  An attempt is made on a couple of occasions but it’s so ill thought-out that you’re left as you were before the scene entered – still not caring.

The first twenty minutes is a total bum rush to get to the point of meeting the author of the ad.  More films need to get to the point quickly, especially indie ones, but the end result here feels like fifteen minutes was missing from various moments overall.  Plaza feels lost with how exactly she’s supposed to feel at the climax considering how uninteresting the man at the centre of the film is, Kenneth Calloway.

Mark Duplass frowns his way through the film and offers yet another phoned in role, a trend of his own career thus far.  Wikipedia credits him as being a co-founder of the mumblecore film movement but this feels like an apologetic copout to his drudge approach.

There’s a few moments that are rather nice but no scenes are strong enough to save any part of the whole film.  There’s zero chemistry between Plaza and Duplass, flat lining the films climax completely and rendering most of the story incomprehensible.  There’s two cops in the film who do nothing but stand there in tall jackets when they’re meant to be successful plot devices and that seems to represent Safety Not Guaranteed for the most part – characters that don’t know what they’re doing with a script lacking in forethought and memorable dialogue.

[rating=1] and a half stars

Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire

Directed by: Colin Trevorrow

Written by: Derek Connolly

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, Mark Duplass and Karan Soni

Safety Not Guaranteed is released in Australia on October the 18th.