Curious ads are placed in the classifieds every day. Most warrant no further attention. But when you see an entirely serious request for a time travelling companion, you give that advertiser a call. Or, in the case of the journalists in Safety Not Guaranteed
, you follow him in the hopes that he'll do something interesting before your deadline.
"Looking for someone to go back in time with me. You'll get paid when you get back. Bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed."
This tiny ad caught the attention of Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), a feature magazine writer desperately seeking inspiration. Commandeering two of the office interns, Jeff set out to find the mystery time traveller and uncover the truth behind what could only be a hoax or delusion. Failing to convince Kenneth (Mark Duplass) of his authenticity, unpaid laborer Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is sent in undercover to get the inside scoop. While the story becomes increasingly stranger, Darius begins to question whether Kenneth may actually be the real deal.
The unusual story is complemented by quirky characters that are strengthened by excellent performances. A somewhat dark and sometimes cynical comedy, the movie positions the viewer between the sincerity of Kenneth and the ambition of the journalists, and it's often difficult to choose sides because both are simultaneously ridiculous and relatable. The relationship established between Kenneth and Darius is built around the fact that they both feel like outsiders, one for more obvious reasons than the other. That is the bit Jeff could not connect to when he approached Kenneth.
Time travel has proven to be a highly adaptable narrative subject. It's been the central theme in not only a variety of science fiction pictures but also romances and television shows. In this instance, it is the motivation for everything that occurs in the film. It's not really a realistic goal based on the absurdity of its champion, but the idea becomes a symbol for the possibilities this path opened for each of them. Darius and Kenneth discover a kinship that brings meaning to their lives, while Jeff revisits his past to reunite with an old flame.
The acting is superb, absorbing the audience into their stories. Duplass was born to portray the awkward guy, off-putting and sweet at the same time. Plaza has the same quality people liked so much in Ellen Page - she's feisty, smart and conveys a real-person quality in her characters. Johnson tends to play the epitome of cynicism because he is incredibly good at it. Karan Soni has a minor role, but his quiet, literal observations are another cog in the film's success.
Safety may not be guaranteed in this picture, but your enjoyment certainly is.
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Mark Duplass
, Aubrey Plaza
and Jake M. Johnson