The classified ad read, “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.” When her co-worker Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) pitches the ad’s creator as a potential story for their magazine, Darius (Aubrey Plaza), an apathetic intern who has yet to find her passion, volunteers to come along for the ride. After arriving in the small town from which the ad originated, they soon track down Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the eccentric but harmless man who claims to have built a machine capable of taking people back in time. Posing as an interested partner, Darius inserts herself into Kenneth’s life, working with him to prepare for the journey while simultaneously gathering information for the magazine expose, all the while believing that Kenneth is crazy. But as the date of their trip draws near, Darius finds herself smitten by Kenneth and is forced to decide once and for all whether she believes in his reality or not.
There are very few movies of late that feature characters with such high level of likability as what you’ll find in Safety Not Guaranteed. Darius exhibits a gloriously apathetic approach to life that goes hand in hand with the dry, sarcastic sense of humor that Plaza specializes in. But from the outset it is apparent that she is capable of more if only she could find something to liven her up. This spark in her eye, as it were, makes her transition all the more satisfying and gives a little weight to Plaza’s performance (for which she has already won an award or two). Duplass, on the other hand, is exceedingly earnest in the best way possible. Above all else, regardless of whether or not he turns out to be crazy, Kenneth is a believer and that quality is brought to life wonderfully. His wounds from the past drive the sci-fi portion of the film but it is presented in such a genuine, even simple way that I couldn’t help but root for him. It is an odd dynamic that exists between Plaza and Duplass but that sort of mismatched weirdness works well within this film. Even Johnson’s character, who is more than a little scuzzy, exhibits a vulnerable honesty that makes him much more likeable than I expected in the early going.
As the film progresses and the various side plots thicken, the sci-fi element of Safety Not Guaranteed becomes less visible but is never put aside entirely. For some sci-fi films it is important to believe in the science at its core in order to accept the film but Safety Not Guaranteed is structured in such a way that allows the viewer to appreciate the sci-fi without becoming overly burdened by reality. In this way, the question of whether or not the science for time travel will come through plays almost like a will-they-or-won’t they from a sitcom, a facet of this film that I quite liked. All told, this is a charming, somewhat unique little film that I absolutely fell in love with.