Cliché alert: “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a small film with, yes, a big heart.
As the indie comedy-cum-romance unspools, the protagonists, prone to rewriting past hurts, or revisiting happier times, find it’s never too late to live in the present.
The story, helmed by first-time director Colin Trevorrow, puts an overbearing journalist and two geeky and insecure interns on the trail of the author of an unusual classified ad.
Aubrey Plaza of TV’s “Parks and Recreation” steps out of past supporting film roles to play Darius, a twentysomething with low self-expectations and big eyes who is a newly minted intern sent to buy toilet paper in bulk at a Seattle magazine.
When overbearing reporter Jeff (Jake Johnson) pitches the idea of taking a trip to find out who’s behind the ad, which reads “Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me ... Safety not guaranteed ...,” Darius and Arnau (Karan Soni) volunteer to go along.
“I would definitely go back,” Darius says, with typically understated humor. “Everything cool is gone. Aztecs. People killing themselves for one another.”
After Jeff’s stab at meeting the ad’s eccentric and paranoid author, Kenneth (Mark Duplass), fails, it conveniently frees him to pursue his main interest: a high school girlfriend. It falls on Darius to establish contact with middle-aged Kenneth. Their first encounter occurs in a sexy and humorous scene staged in front of soup cans in a convenience store aisle.
Jeff tries to remake his past with the former flame. Kenneth speaks to Darius of wanting to return through time to save a girl he was once in love with, and sings a song he’s written about her at Darius’ urging. And Darius opens up, wishing she could go back in time to stop her mother from being murdered after she stopped at a store to buy her daughter chocolate milk.
Drawn to Kenneth’s anguish and earnestness, Darius finds herself falling in love, even assisting him in the theft of a laser from a medical laboratory.
Meanwhile, there’s the cloud of deception that follows Darius, Kenneth’s kooky determination to pursue time travel and a story to be filed – all of which begins to unravel after Kenneth predictably discovers that Darius and Jeff are in cahoots.
The film packs a surprise ending, and a well-placed cameo by Kristen Bell. With smart writing and strong performances, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a sweet film to spend time with in a darkened theater.
safety not guaranteed
3 stars (Out of four)
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Running time: 87 minutes
Rating: R for language, sexual references.
The Lowdown: Romantic comedy about someone going back in time, and the magazine team assigned to tell the story.