Friday, 4 January 2013

Safety Not Guaranteed

The latest film from the Duplass brothers is Safety Not Guaranteed, a film about a sad young magazine intern (Aubrey Plaza) who joins her boss (Jake Johnson) and fellow intern (Karen Soni) in tracking down a man who has left an advert in a local newspaper. The ad reads: “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” Intrigued and hoping to discover a crazy man worth writing a story about, the three of them set off from Seattle to Ocean View to track the man down. They find Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a paranoid man who believes the Government are following him. Slowly Kenneth begins to accept Darius (Plaza) into his plans but is he crazy or is he on to something?

I was recommended this film by Malone on Movies and had heard very little about it beforehand. Just this morning I saw it was on The Vern's worst of 2012 list which made me worried. What also worried me was my total lack of interest in Jeff Who Lives at Home, a film I really disliked. I have really enjoyed the Duplass’ work in the past though and to be fair this film was written by newcomer Derek Connolly and directed by Colin Trevorrow but retains a lot of the quirky plotting, expert dialogue and unusual situations which has made some of the Duplass’ work great.

I liked Safety Not Guaranteed a lot but I didn’t love it. My main problem was an uneven performance from Aubrey Plaza who I feel was miscast. At times she is very good and I think there is chemistry between her and Duplass but I found her performance messy and confusing. She is introduced as a sad girl who has lost her mother and has poor social skills yet when we see her at work she is confident and funny. On the assignment which is the basis for the plot she is shown to be intelligent, fun and caring. None of this is what I’d associate with a reclusive, messed up young woman. The problem may stem from the writing but Aubrey Plaza doesn’t convince. Another problem, which isn’t her fault, is that she is far too pretty for the role. This might seem like an odd statement but we’re meant to believe she struggles to meet people and make friends and in the real world, someone who looked like that would have no trouble, no matter how messed up they are.

Despite Plaza’s potholed performance the rest of the film is a delight. It is quirky and subtly funny and I enjoyed the humour. I didn’t laugh loads but when I did they were big laughs. The dialogue is witty and inventive yet realistic and the two main sub plots not only help to flesh the film out but also add to it. Jake Johnson’s story of lost love and a sort of early mid life crisis seem to mirror Mark Duplass’ paranoia and fears. Both appear to be worried about moving on with their lives and leaving lost love behind. There is also a great cast. I don’t want to sound too down on Aubrey Plaza. Despite my problems she is still highly watchable. Mark Duplass is the real star, playing it perfectly straight to the point where you are never really sure if he is crazy or even if he knows he’s crazy. Jake Johnson (who my girlfriend describes as ‘pretty’) is really good and there are cameos from some great comedic actors including Jeff Garlin, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Kristen Bell.

Safety Not Guaranteed is a showcase for writer Derek Connolly who delivers a far from perfect but wonderfully detailed, attention-grabbing and original script. Mark Duplass shows that his excellent performance in Your Sister’s Sister wasn’t a one off and leads a film which is idiosyncratic, funny, sweet and in the end a really enjoyable eighty-five minutes. 

       GFR 7/10       

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