What would you do if you saw a magazine classified asking for a partner to go time travelling with? Write the author off as a nut-job? Go back and buy a Euromillions ticket? Assassinate Sarah Connor?
In Safety Not Guaranteed, this is a question one journalist, Jeff (Jake Johnson) and his two interns, Darius and Arnau (Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni) have to answer when they find one such classified that reads: ‘Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.’
Setting off with the intention to write a comedy piece, the trio find Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a troubled supermarket employee who is paranoid his time travelling interests are drawing the attention of some shady individuals. Unsure of whether he is eccentric or channeling some serious shaved head-era Britney, Darius poses as a fellow time traveller with her very own reasons for going back in time.
After premiering to critical acclaim and receiving an award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, SNG received a limited UK release back in December and has only just recently been unveiled on iTunes. It is a film that not many will have heard of and fewer will have seen.
In the absence of a mega-budget, first-time film director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly concentrate on creating a witty and sharp script that is delivered by a competent and even sharper cast. This character-centric approach to the film is certainly what makes the duo an intriguing choice for the upcoming Jurassic Park IV. There are very few visual effects and definitely no dinosaurs in this.
The script plays to the strengths of the cast, and both Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) and Jake Johnson (New Girl) exploit their comedy background to deliver some truly funny scenes. However, the pair can also up the drama for the more grounded scenes. The true star turn comes from Mark Duplass who balances vulnerable/creepy/sympathetic. You can’t help but think time travelling with Kenneth would actually be just as much fun as gallivanting with Marty McFly.
Whereas some would comment that the film suffers from a small budget, a counter argument can be made that the film actually benefits from it. With the majority of these small independent films, and unlike big budget blockbusters, the fat is trimmed and each shot has been carefully thought out. There’s a tendency with larger films to include stuff because they can, not because it needs it. This is a refreshing approach to film making, especially in the days of the exhausting Man of Steel and over-the-top Iron Man 3 where money is just thrown at the director to make the film louder with more explosions.
The concept of SNG is certainly an interesting one but scarily, not entirely fictitious. It turns out the film’s inspiration is an identical ad that appeared in a 1997 American lifestyle magazine when an employee was asked by the editor to fill up the empty space. This became somewhat of a phenomenon. However, for a film where the central premise is time travel, there is in fact very little science fiction. This movie is most definitely a rom-com about the bonding of two social outcasts and the regrets we have in life that force us to live in the past.
The main focus of the story is very much Darius and Kenneth’s increasing closeness as they share their reasons for time travelling and train for the adventure ahead. However, there is a really clever side story with journalist Jake trying to rekindle his relationship with an old flame. Jake creates his own form of time travel and shows that sometimes you don’t need a flux-capacitor and 88 miles per hour to try and change the past.
SNG is that type of clever, feel-good film that is inoffensive and understated. Do the time travelling antics succeed? I won’t say. Can we expect a Part 2 set in the future with flying cars? Or a Part 3 set in the wild west? I doubt it. Either way, whereas my latest trips to the cinema have left me wanting to go back in time and stop myself from watching a recent slew of duds, I’m happy to not get back the time I spent watching SNG.