Admittedly, a “time-travelling indie comedy” may not be the most appealing concept upon first glance, but much like the characters in this charmingly offbeat yarn, initial perceptions differ from what is eventually achieved. On the strength of Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) alone, director Colin Trevorrow was given the plump gig of bringing Jurassic World (2015) to the big screen. It’s a huge leap in scope for the neophyte filmmaker, but after witnessing what he’s managed to do with this material it’s easy to see what attracted Spielberg. Aubrey Plaza plays Darius, a college graduate and under-appreciated magazine intern.
Living at home with her father, Darius volunteers to join her boorish staff writer Jeff (Jack Johnson) and a nebbish student (Karan Soni) to investigate the figure behind a ludicrous and fanciful classified ad who is looking for a partner to help assist in his proposed journey through time and space. Jeff may have personal, ulterior motives for the mission, but Darius is focused on unearthing whether the ad’s writer, an oddball supermarket employed named Kenneth (a straight-faced turn from Mark Duplass) is the real deal, or is in fact the crackpot everyone believes him to be. Managing to win his trust and gain further information about his seemingly madcap operation, Darius realises there may be more to him than meets the eye.
What could so easily have been annoyingly twee in less capable hands instead manages to be touching, heart-felt and enthralling. It’s an assured debut from Trevorrow, who’s much more cognisant towards character than spectacle, and manages to skilfully maintain the ambiguity around Kenneth throughout. He’s aided and abetted by a fine cast and the script by Derek Connolly allows for Duplass, Johnson and Plaza to bring a welcoming pathos to their characters, amongst the more outwardly eccentric moments. Successfully straddling the line between two ostensibly mismatched genres, Safety Not Guaranteed is the kind of American indie which could well revive your jaded heart and leave a grin plastered across your face.