Indie comedies like “Bernie” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” have been raking in the cash and skewing to largely older audiences. Although both are solid entertainment, the specialty box office has been missing a lighthearted film that will appeal as much to the younger set as it does to their parents. “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a welcome presence in theaters this summer and provides plenty of laughs with a big heart.
Based on a 1997 classified ad in “Backwoods Home Magazine,” the film follows three journalists that try to get the scoop on a man who is looking for somebody to go back in time with him. No one is entirely sure if he is crazy or speaking the truth and the film keeps audiences guessing until its final moments.
Aubrey Plaza plays Darius, a hardworking and sarcastic intern that has trouble connecting with others until she meets Kenneth (Mark Duplass). What begins as a magazine assignment soon turns into something more meaningful as the two of them discover the importance of moving on and embracing one’s uniqueness.
Most notable for her role on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” Plaza has been characterized by her one-note, snarky humor. It is prominent both on and off-screen, and starts to become a tiresome gimmick to watch.
“Safety Not Guaranteed” proves that Plaza is a much more capable actress and has a depth we have never seen from her before. She delivers most of the film’s funniest lines and is pitch-perfect when revealing the vulnerable side of her character. Plaza carries the entire movie, which was an unexpected yet gratifying feat to see.
Duplass took awhile to warm up to, but proved to be a wonderful contrast to Plaza. His eccentric behavior made Kenneth’s sanity all the more uncertain, but was authentic enough to garner sympathy for him. Although his character’s reasoning for going back in time was underwhelming at first, Duplass made it both believable and intriguing.
Jake Johnson of Fox’s “New Girl” is appealing as the lovable pervert characteristic with many “bromantic” comedies in recent years--consistently trying to get the awkward intern (Karan Soni) laid and on a mission to hook up with his former flame (Jenica Bergere). One particular scene finds him driving a go-kart with a cigarette in his mouth and a bottle of beer in hand, which is definitely one of the funniest images to grace movie screens this year.
Despite the strength of its leads, the film has its share of weak and underdeveloped characters. Bergere’s ex-girlfriend feels forced and phony, and her storyline with Johnson seems tacked on for the sole purpose of giving screen time to others. Characters like Darius’ father--who calls her out on being a virgin--and her no-nonsense magazine editor also feel like caricatures rather than solid comic relief.
Although the story may get sappy and melodramatic at times, Derek Connolly’s script is definitely the film’s strongest asset. It is fresh and charming, with delightful nods to various film genres and plenty of “Star Wars” references. While many indie films go out of their way to create quirky characters with every clichéd problem possible, “Safety Not Guaranteed” finds the perfect balance between realistic and bizarre with characters that we truly root for.
With a dismal batch of comedies like “That’s My Boy” and “Rock of Ages” opening this weekend, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is without a doubt the superior film to see.