Review: Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson

How many fresh ideas can Hollywood piss all over by allowing them to devolve into cliched schlock? I don’t expect you to answer this right away, but Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed is yet another perfect example of how an intriguing, albeit overtly hip central premise can be tarnished by an overall lack of focus and, above all, poise. While the instances surrounding a Seattle magazine’s interest in publishing a story about a man seeking a partner to time travel with are agreeably amusing and often hilarious, Trevorrow’s critically acclaimed, low-key hit can’t help but make but a few missteps that transform the entire production into something almost entirely undesirable.

For starters, Safety Not Guaranteed‘s marketing campaign showed the utmost promise. Equal parts quirky and original, we were fooled into thinking that Trevorrow and company actually had the intention of fleshing out a story worthy of fully illustrating the potential brilliance behind such an out-there concept. While not fully discrediting it in this regard, the film does manage to strike a particular emotional chord with audiences by fleshing out each of its characters despite an altogether unnecessary story arc involving Aubrey Plaza’s Darius’ boss (Jake Johnson) and his fling with an old flame, making the film as multifaceted as it almost ought NOT to be.

Quickly devolving into a half-assed romcom focusing on Mark Duplass’ oddball caricature of a human-being and his relationship with Plaza’s equally awkward journalist intern-type, it’s a shame to witness such promise go to shit so quickly. It has flashes of Gondry and even Kaufman and Jonze here and there, implementing a questionable conspiracy theory involving Duplass’ Kenneth and his involvement in something that may or may not be out of our titular trio’s leagues as two suited gentlemen remain hot on his trail.

Even as the truth begins to surface, nothing can quite save Safety Not Guaranteed from itself. Sure, it starts out wonderfully, mixing equal parts humor with something we’ve never quite seen before – a match made in heaven – but ultimately, the entire production falls victim to a glaring identity crisis, putting a slightly clever spin on typical romcom tropes and losing sight of the hilarity it could’ve consistently been capable of. Human emotion is often lost track of despite the film’s insistance on implementing it at irregular intervals, however strong performances and flashes of genius via an agreeably messy-yet-gratifying conclusion assure us that Safety Not Guaranteed is merely an ambitious, slightly entertaining misfire that could’ve been a lot more.

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