Sunday, July 15, 2012

Safety is Never Guaranteed in Friendship, Love, or Life.

Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Reviewed: 15 July 2012

jamesintexas rating--***1/2

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.  I have only done this once before.  SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.

PLOT: Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza plays Darius, an intern at a Seattle news magazine roped into investigating the cryptic personal ad with lead writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni).  A trip to the small town of Jake's youth allows him to try to reconnect with an old flame while Darius and Arnau stake out the post office box trying to get a glimpse of the man behind the ad.  He is Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a grocery clerk fond of headbands and secrecy, easily one of the most interesting characters portrayed onscreen this year.  He is building a time machine, and Darius becomes the one he trains as his protege and then partner.  WOUNDED LIKE-MINDED FRIENDS.

REVELATIONS: The performances are strong with Plaza and Duplass as stand-outs.  The screenplay weaves Jeff's journey back into the past through connecting with an old girlfriend against Darius's burgeoning respect and love for Kenneth as they fire pistols, run through the woods, break into low-level scientific installations searching for crucial pieces of the time machine.  Washington state looks great, and the movie's humor moves easily.  CONSTANT QUIET SURPRISES.

LOVED: I love the open-ended quality of the film including its wonderful ending.  Kenneth is a singularly weird, possibly mental ill, possibly genius of a character, and Duplass's face is fresh and his work here is nomination-worthy.  Johnson is annoying and crass, and his thread pays off in a rough, raw way.  Overall, the plot takes its time, meanders and wanders.  BEAUTIFUL AND SAD.

MISSES: I don't believe that the plot strand dealing with Arnau (and Jeff's influence over him) is as strongly sketched out, and Arnau's stakes as a character are simply never as strong as those of Jeff or Darius.  I wish that the character was given more to do and say.  And as much as I like Plaza's performance (her first lead, I believe), there's simply too many shots of her staring at Kenneth in meaningful ways versus speaking.  I wanted her character to verbalize more of what she was undergoing, and her transformation lacks the power that I think the director was reaching for with her character.  SOME UNREALIZED POTENTIAL.

TAKE-AWAYS: There is a simplicity to the premise of this film, to the want-ad's haiku-like poetic brilliance and its eternal relevance.  On some level, the conceit of return is present in relationships and friendships as a person risks to find someone who will make them feel at home, safety, peace.  Connections are not jokes; payment is never upfront or assured; the wealth of forging a friendship with another is unquantifiable; with everything, we always have to bring our own weapons, armor, issues, and defenses.  Experience is overrated and uncertain; safety is never guaranteed in building a friendship, forging a connection, falling in love with someone.  Safety is never guaranteed, but I do guarantee that this film will make you think, make you wonder at Mark Duplass's unguarded and sweet performance, make you smile.  GUARANTEED YOU'LL THINK.

Here's my ad:

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED: Wounded like-minded friends.  Constant quiet surprises.  Beautiful and sad.  Some unrealized potential.  Guaranteed you'll think.  (THAT'S PRETTY AWESOME IN A SUMMER MOVIE!)

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