Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a recent grad struggling in the working world, only able to land an internship at a magazine. When reporter Jeff (Jake Johnson) needs assistants to tag along and do all his work on an unusual story, Darius is eager to volunteer. A man has placed a classified ad for a companion to go back in time with him, claiming he has time traveled once before. Jeff thinks it could fun feature, see if the weirdo is for real, but when time traveler Kenneth (Mark Duplass) recruits Darius for his mission the team has to ask themselves if they covering a lunatic or a genius.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film. Based on a real fake classified ad, I wasn’t sure what direction they were going to go with it. Was the main action going to be the crew traveling through time kicking ass and taking names? Will the guy be proven to be a whackjob? What I liked about the film is that they really found a way to leave what’s Kenneth’s real deal is up to the audience, telling a sci-fi story steeped in reality. It also touches on the bigger question of what would each of us do if given the power to time travel?
Mark Duplass is pretty fun as Kenneth, the totally 80s out potential time traveler. His intense training process is hilarious and provides a wonderful chance to watch Kenneth and Darius bond. Duplass and Plaza have pretty strong chemistry, which is almost enough overlook their age gap. However, Duplass’ denim-tastic attire highlights their age difference making certain scenes a little uncomfortable. While Duplass is believable in scenes amping up Kenneth’s quirks for comedic value as well as in scenes showing the character’s sensitive side, his weakness as a dramatic actor shines through in some of the more intense moments. However, he creates a likeable enough character that you really root for him not being completely out of his mind.
For me, Jake Johnson was the stand out of the film. His character appears so gross and assholey as he brings the interns along to do his work for him as he tracks down a former flame, but over time you find yourself growing to love him. His shallow attitude masks a man desperately hoping he can turn back time and fix the biggest mistake of his life, letting his high school girlfriend get away. He also allows his jerk tendencies fall away as he tries to help the other intern (whose sole purpose in the film is to give Johnson someone to talk to when Darius and Kenneth are off training) learn how to stop worrying about school and have fun once in awhile.
Definitely one of the most unexpected films of the year. Safety Not Guaranteed has a strong cast and tackles the fantastical in a realistic way, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions about what is real and what is not. There’s also a surprising amount of tenderness that that is lacking from many comedies.