There may not be any two tougher genre of film to nail than the time travel picture, and the indie comedy feature.
Both featuring a cavalcade of narrative tropes, it takes a gutsy filmmaker to try and tackle one of these two, let alone both. And then there is the pair of director Colin Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly. The pair made a massive deal of noise after the debut of their new film, Safety Not Guaranteed at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and now, thanks to SXSW and their continuing ‘partnership’ of sorts with Sundance, the film has hit Austin. And it’s now proof that not only are these genres do able, but when put together, they have the ability to make one of the funniest and most heartfelt features of this still young year.
Following the story of three magazine employees who stumble across an ad for a time traveler looking for a partner, Safety may sound like a hyper-twee bit of indie filmmaking, but with a quartet of top-tier performances and a whip-smart screenplay from Connolly, the film is both a great bit of comedy, and also one of the most tender and true romances seen in quite some time.
The cast here is to die for. Aubrey Plaza stars here as our true lead, Darius, an intern looking to make a splash on her first true work trip. She plays the character with a load of quirk, but not without equal parts heart, blending her hipster-like aesthetic with a sense of realism and vulnerability, all making up a character that never leans towards a caricature. Jake Johnson is charming as hell here as Jeff, the writer of the story who is using the trip to get in touch with an old fling, only to have the entire show stolen by Karan Soni, charming intern Arnau. Their scenes together are bloody side-splitting, leaving you rolling in the aisles. However, the film belongs to Mark Duplass, playing the character of Kenneth. Seemingly outside of his mind, there is such a sense of truth and purity to Duplass’ character, making this very broad figure immensely relatable. From top to bottom, this film belongs to its superb cast, and their often career-best performances.
Safety is not only able to make itself a great comedy and intriguing sci-fi story, but it’s also a truly moving ode to lost romance. Each character is attempting to deal with the loss of either a loved one, or a one that they have previously been in love with (or in the case of Arnau, falling in love for the first time), and it’s beyond relatable. The story itself has all the chance in the world to be something twee, corny and quirky, but with as much heart as the narrative is injected with, it never falls on deaf ears. Attribute that to the top notch script from Connolly, but also the fantastic filmmaking from Trevorrow. His aesthetic fits the narrative so well, blending great static sequences of true emotion with a killer sense of comedic timing, and a camera that isn’t afraid to be truly playful.
With a killer soundtrack to boot, Safety Not Guaranteed may have an opening that will turn many a person off, and a subplot that is the definition of jarring, but it also has a brilliant screenplay, a cast to die for, and a great sense of style. It may not be for everyone, but it’s rare to say that this is a film that everyone should truly give a shot. Sweet as all hell, and concussion-inducing funny, Safety Not Guaranteed is going to be this year’s must see indie comedy. A real gem, this film.