Saturday, June 23, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed [2012]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Safety Not Guaranteed (directed by Colin Trevorrow, screenplay by Derek Connolly) is a well-written, well-acted, well-crafted low-budget young adult oriented "indie" film that I do hope the Academy takes note of come Oscar time at least for consideration as best original screenplay.

Bored writers working for "Seattle Magazine" bouncing around ideas at a "beginning of the week" staff meeting come across a classified ad in a local paper stating: 

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.

Ok, the ad was probably placed by a kook.  But there may be an interesting "human interest story" there.  So "tenured" but particularly bored/jaded 30-something writer Jeff (played by Jake M. Johnson), who actually presented the ad to the rest of the writing staff at the magazine, volunteers to pursue it asking for two of the staff's interns -- geekish Arnou (played by Karan Soni) who he calls "The Indian" and quiet, indeed almost sullen Darius (played by Aubrey Plaza) who he calls "the Lesbian") -- to come along to help him out.  He gets permission to take those two interns with him and to pursue the story.

Now the ad was placed by someone leaving only a Post Office box as an address and the Post Office box was to be found in a small town on the Pacific Coast some distance (100-200 miles) away from Seattle (welcome to America's Pacific Northwest ;-).   I mention the distance because it becomes apparent that researching this story is _not_ going to be a "commuting job." Instead, the three are going have to go out to that town and stay there for some time.

Staking out the Post Office, they eventually find the person who placed the ad.  His name is Kenneth (played by Mark Duplass).  He has a job bagging groceries and lives apparently alone in a house just at the edge of town.  So he does seem to be a kook.  However, he had apparently been an engineering major some time back, and when Darius establishes contact with him as someone who'd be interested in possibly possibly going back in time with him, it becomes clear that Kenneth was rather bright.  So was he merely a kook perhaps even a dangerous kook, or was he someone like the Matt Damon character in Good Will Hunting [1997]?

That question is of course important.  However, it becomes less so as the movie progresses because the film becomes a meditation on the more basic questions: Why one would want to time travel to begin with?  Does one even need a "time machine" to time travel? or perhaps even more to the point to Can one become "stuck in time?"

It becomes clear that to the writers of the film, one of the primary motivations for yearning to travel back in time is _regret_.  Both Kenneth and, it turns out Darius, have reasons for wanting to go back in time.

But it turns out that Jeff himself in pursuing this project is actually doing some "time traveling" himself:  His family used to go to that coastal town on vacation when Jeff was young.  And so he's going back to that town to see if he could recapture some of that past (with or without Kenneth's time machine).

Finally, Jeff does some coaching for Arnou, reminding him: "You're 21.  But remember, dear friend, you're not going to be 21 forever."

So I found the movie fascinating because though it has a "science fiction" theme to it (and it actually flirts very nicely with that theme throughout the film -- _never_ really "blowing it"), the science fiction aspect to the film becomes "beside the point." 

We are all time travelers.  We can live in today.  We can live for the future.  We can live in the past.  We can get stuck in the past.  And regardless, in life, safety is never guaranteed.

What a great story!

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