Thursday, June 14, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

Film: Safety Not Guaranteed

Starring: Mark Duplass (FX series The League), Aubrey Plaza (Funny People), and Jake M. Johnson (No Strings Attached)

Director: Colin Trevorrow

U.S. Release: June 8th, 2012 (Limited Release - Rated R)

Genre: Drama/Comedy

Runtime: 94 minutes

Mark Duplass is as versatile as they come. While the average Joe would only recognize him for his hilarious work as Pete on the FX original series The League, Duplass has made his biggest impact on the movie scene as a writer, director, and originator of "Mumblecore". Mumblecore is a term used to describe a large number of independent U.S. films released since the early 2000's. These films are detailed by an insanely low budget, minimal production value, and amateur acting. Mark Duplass, along with his co-directing brother Jay, helped spawn this branch of indie filmmaking and produce low budget features focusing mainly on naturalistic and sometimes even improvised dialogue. Since then, the directing duo has managed to make somewhat larger pictures with 2010's Cyrus and 2012's Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Although Mark Duplass has gone from being behind the camera to in front of it, with his latest work Safety Not Guaranteed, he and first-time director Colin Trevorrow offer up one of Summer's biggest underdogs.

Safety Not Guaranteed follows Darius (played by Plaza), a young keep-to-herself woman working as an intern for a Seattle magazine. When her boss Jeff (played by Johnson) decides to investigate a small town's classified ad requesting a partner for time travel, Darius and a fellow intern named Arnau join the team. Once  the trio identify Kenneth (played by Duplass) as the author of the ad, Darius eventually gains his acceptance and becomes a partner for Kenneth's "mission". While spending so much time together, Darius begins to see Kenneth in a different light and wonders if he's far less crazy than the everyone else believes.

Colin Trevorrow's directorial debut, Safety Not Guaranteed, is a shining example of the anti-Summer blockbuster. Serving as an eye-opening reminder that you don't need a huge budget or mind-blowing special effects in order to make a successful film, Safety Not Guaranteed delivers everything you want in a movie watching experience. Without a hitch, the feature blends together a heartfelt script including a top-notch love story, a touch of science fiction and more then enough laughs to leave the film feeling almost effortless. An enormous amount of credit must be given to the movie's writer, Derek Connolly, who has already won a 2012 Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance for the script. Connolly, who is also making his major motion picture debut as a scribe, avoids any first time mistakes as the screenplay is absolutely flawless. Rarely can a writer use words to craft such remarkably genuine characters, but Connolly strikes gold with this one. In addition to Connolly, Safety Not Guaranteed benefits from having a masterful collection of actors and actresses to help bring the words to life. The feature is brilliantly headlined by Mark Duplass, who once again reminds us that he brings so much more to the table than just directing. In his role as Kenneth, Duplass exemplifies a childlike sense of wonder and allure so well that it ultimately helps drive the performance given by his leading counterpart, Aubrey Plaza. In what is also her first leading role, Plaza's quaint beauty and genuine charm perfectly complement Duplass as their onscreen chemistry is indescribably unreachable. With so many "first timers" on the film, Safety Not Guaranteed goes beyond expectations and becomes a fresh, full of life experience.

Some may argue that Trevorrow and Connolly drown the movie in sentiment, but I'd disagree. While Safety Not Guaranteed definitely attempts to cater to the viewer's emotions, there's so many other aspects of the film to appreciate. Everything from the picture's laugh out loud comedic one-liners, to its sci-fi backdrop and subplot revolving around Jeff and his former high school fling (which is used to parallel the idea of time travel in some weird sense). Safety Not Guaranteed intends to leave a mark on its audience on various levels and, without question, it certainly does. With about 10 minutes left in the film, you realize that there's a million different ways the movie can conclude, and Trevorrow chooses the perfect one. You'll walk out of the theatre completely satisfied from start to finish and, believe me, that's a tall order these days.

With Summer blockbusters like Marvel's The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises set to destroy box office records, it's inevitable for a tiny diamond in the rough such as Safety Not Guaranteed to get lost in the mix. However, Colin Trevorrow's directorial debut is a must-see on all accounts. If you're into a well-written, sensationally acted drama that will keep you laughing throughout, look no further than Safety Not Guaranteed. I can confidently call it one of 2012's finest films.

Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B+

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