Sundance London 2012: ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ review

★★★★☆

American director Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) is just the type of sweet-natured, low budget indie comedy (with an all-important intelligent heart) that has slowly become synonymous with the world-renowned Sundance Film Festival. Starring rising star Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson and US mumblecore actor/director Mark Duplass, Safety Not Guaranteed is a pitch perfect slice of contemporary American cinema, complete with an intriguing sci-fi twist. When protagonist Jeff (Johnson), a Seattle magazine reporter, suggests a pitch about a peculiar classified ad in a local paper, he’s swiftly whisked off to investigate.

The magazine advert that Jeff has stumbled upon simply reads; “Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” Desperate to find out more about this eye catching advert Jeff heads to the small coastal town it originated from accompanied by two interns; the plucky, yet dry humoured Darius (Plaza) and the bookish Arnau (Karan Soni).

The three attempt to get an interview with the writer of the advert (Duplass), however, his incredibly secretive demeanour results in them having to do some deeply penetrating investigative journalism to get their story. Unwilling to get his hands dirty and preoccupied with reacquainting himself with a schoolboy fling, Jeff uses Darius as bait in order to get closer to this eccentric inventor. Less a film about time travel, but rather a moving and witty comedy that just so happens to include time travel, Safety Not Guaranteed is a pitch-perfect example of smart American indie filmmaking at its best.

Using its intriguing science fiction premise to bulk out the film’s overriding theme of regret, Trevorrow’s film has far more in common with a life-affirming road movie or coming of age comedy than it does with special effects laden blockbusters. It’s this focus on character development and a natural, smart and often hilarious script which makes Trevorrow’s sci-fi  such a immensely enjoyable film. Every single member of the film’s minute cast puts in a tremendous performance, however, Johnson as the roguish man-boy reporter is perhaps the most endearing.

The delivery of his lines and ability to allow the audience to warm to his childlike obnoxiousness is superb, stealing the spotlight from Plaza’s starring role and even outdoing Duplass’ Timothy Treadwell-inspired eccentric, obsessive time traveller. Highly original and incredibly entertaining, Safety Not Guaranteed is just the type of refreshing and intelligent film worth waiting for – a real jewel in the crown for American indie cinema.

Patrick Gamble

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