‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ — an indie movie well worth wandering into

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

Would you answer this ad?

“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.”

It is a genuine classified; check with Jay Leno if you don’t believe me.

It is also the jumping-off-point for “Safety Not Guaranteed,” one of those wonderful movies you wander into, not even expecting to stay, and come out of with your head in a whole different place.

So low-budget it must’ve been financed by a Girl Scout Troop’s cookie sales, “Safety Not Guaranteed” begins with an ad — the ad cited above — only here, it’s being tossed around at Seattle magazine’s editorial meeting. There might be something in it, offers Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) the “veteran” reporter.

Translation: he wants out of the office and has an old girlfriend he could look up while supposedly on assignment in rural Washington State.

He brings along two interns, unpaid of course. Arnau (Karan Soni) is still in college, but Darius (Aubrey Plaza from “Parks And Recreation”), is just drifting. So, apparently, is their quarry, who is easily found, but not so easily pegged.

His name is Kenneth (Mark Duplass, also one of the film’s producers). And whether or not he’s on the level…well, the more pertinent question, perhaps, is would he do bodily harm to anyone… Kenneth is a grungy eccentric Not a cute Hollywood eccentric like, say, Robin Williams in “The Fisher King,” but a troubled and potentially troublesome guy.

Still, when the time comes to move in closer, Darius doesn’t just draw the short straw; she grabs it. Something about Kenneth and his time-travel claim intrigues her.

A paranoid whose mood swings from harmless to belligerent in the time it takes to defriend someone on Facebook, Kenneth is not readily approached. Though Darius quickly makes contact — watch her trick with a can of tomato soup — it takes a while to gain his trust. And once she has, she’s not certain what to do with it. Or him.

While they cautiously build a relationship — Kenneth teaches her survival tactics and takes her for an after-hours raid on a research center — Jeff goes looking for his former flame, embarking on his own version of a trip into the past. Arnau, the youngest, remains firmly fixed in the present, hanging around the hotel room, wondering when anyone is actually going to work on the story.

“Safety Not Guaranteed” tells us — in an original and almost winsome manner — that nothing is guaranteed. Not love, not career, not what’s going to happen. And, just maybe, not even what already has.

Oddly lyrical, occasionally strained, and ultimately persuasive enough to leave you with a genuine time-out-of-mind tingle, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is as unadorned as a ‘90s garage band. There is, I’d guess, maybe one special effect (and it’s not much of one) in the entire movie. Rather, filmmakers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly (and their superb cast) show us the very special effect we have on each other. It’s the emotion, stupid.

Note to readers: Hey everybody—not trying to oversell this, so don’t get your expectations too high, but I was —obviously—quite taken with it. Key word to remember–independent film (I guess that’s 2 words…)

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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