Friday, January 31, 2014

A Safe Place

I recently watched an oddball indie film from 2012, Safety Not Guaranteed. It's a difficult to classify film that has a light touch on several genres: comedy, romance, and... science fiction. A journalist takes his two interns to investigate a crazed personal ad placed in a newspaper: a man is looking for a partner to join him in traveling back in time. One of the interns feels a certain sympatico with the reclusive conspiracy theorist behind the ad, and her early efforts to pump him for information gradually turn into a meaningful relationship. But as the two grow closer, it begins to look as though maybe, just maybe, he's not so crazy after all.

The number of recognizable actors in the movie will depend entirely on what other kinds of TV shows and movies you've watched. The downbeat intern drawn into this weird tale is played by Aubrey Plaza, of Parks and Recreation. She does a good job finding humorous moments with her fundamentally depressed character. The journalist who supervises her is Jake Johnson, of New Girl. His character's subplot of reuniting with an old high school flame feels rather extraneous to the story being told, but winds up being a very enjoyable part of the movie itself. The "time traveler" is played by Mark Duplass, one of the stars of the truly terrible Your Sister's Sister, who thankfully has better material to work with here.

This is one of those movies that's much more about the journey than the destination, as it never truly latches on to one major dramatic question for long. What starts as "what kind of crazy person places an ad for a time traveling partner?" quickly gives way to other questions. "Is the intern more broken than her subject?" "Is he maybe not crazy after all?" "Can the womanizing journalist turn over a new leaf?" And though I wouldn't say the film's ending is ambiguous in any way, it still somehow feels rather unresolved. There's more to see that we simply don't get to.

The light touch I mentioned works both for and against the film. It makes everything fun to watch, bringing a few genuine smiles to your face. But then it also leaves you feeling less than fully satisfied when it's all done. It's not bad, but the indie film bar is set pretty high these days. I give Safety Not Guaranteed a C+. If quirky romances are your thing, you would probably like it. Everyone else could probably take it or leave it.

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