This past weekend I had the opportunity to join some friends in Dallas and catch a movie, and we decided to see Safety Not Guaranteed. The movie is based on a popular sort of meme-slash-urban-legend: an ad appeared in the Pacific Northwest’s Backwoods Home Magazine:
WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 322, Oakview, CA 93022. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
The ad attracted a lot of Internet attention, and eventually the ad’s writer revealed that he worked for the magazine and came up with a few ads to fill out their classifieds section. This particular one was originally going to be the beginning of a novel some years prior. None of this has stopped people from developing their own stories surrounding the idea of such an ad.
In the case of Safety Not Guaranteed, our story revolves around Darius, a (female) college grad, intern, and general emo kid. After one of the magazine’s writers, Jeff, pitches an article based on the (slightly truncated in the movie) ad, he selects Darius and another intern, Arnau, to accompany him to Ocean View, Seattle. Jeff has the interns track down the ad’s writer, Kenneth Calloway, and then attempts to respond to the ad. His insincerity is clear to Calloway (played by The League‘s Mark Duplass), so Jeff sends Darius to pose as a time travel candidate and spends most of the rest of his time wooing an old high school fling who lives in the town— his real reason for pitching the story. Darius’ combination of snark and idealism gets her in with Kenneth, and he begins to train her in shooting, running, and running while shooting, and she begins to fall for him. I won’t ruin the entire story, but suffice it to say that things start to go poorly for our team.
This is a really fun, sweet movie. It absolutely reeks “indie cred” because it’s mostly about a weird ensemble of characters and their messy lives, some story threads are left dangling at the end, and the weird, possibly insane guy gets a cute and smart girl to fall for him. None of this really feels like a bad thing.
The ‘trinity’ of magazine workers sort of sets the tone: pro-writer Jeff lives in the present (but starts to learn that he can’t keep doing that as he gets older); Arnau, playing the sort of stereotypical nerd of Middle Eastern descent who is planning ahead for his doctorate, learns to live in the moment. And then there’s Darius, who is sort of fixated on the past and is then presented with the opportunity to actually go to the past…if Kenneth turns out to not be completely insane. Darius and Jeff are the two who are most well-fleshed out as Arnau is sort of one of those threads left dangling at the end, but Jeff and Arnau’s misadventures are a decently entertaining and thematic sidebar to what’s going on with Darius and Kenneth.
I don’t know anything about the writer/producer for Safety Not Guaranteed; his name is Derek Connolly and he doesn’t seem to have done much else (just a 2005 TV movie). He’s done a great job here, though; the dialogue is snappy and entertaining without reaching Kevin Smith-level implausibility.
While I was watching this movie I kept thinking of a flick I saw on TV as a kid: The Boy Who Could Fly. It revolves around an autistic boy and the girl next door, who comes to believe that he can, well, fly. If you’ve seen it, know that Safety Not Guaranteed is sort of a grown-up’s version of the film, at least in a few thematic ways. Safety Not Guaranteed is a fairly simple movie— I saw one article that called it a film with “modest ambitions” that it therefore exceeded, and I agree with that assessment. This flick isn’t trying to be Citizen Kane or whatever the indie equivalent thereof is.
I suspect there are people who won’t dig it. If that sort of “weird people living quirky lives” vibe from Juno irritates you, there are probably moments of Safety that you won’t like…although this film is way less neatly-packaged than Juno. But all in all I think it’s a really sweet, charming movie without being cutesy or cloying, and I really enjoyed it.