out of Five
Running time: 84
Colin Trevorrow's impressive feature debut is a hugely enjoyable, frequently hilarious comedy with a brilliant script, an inspired premise, likeable characters and a star-making central performance from Aubrey Plaza.
What's it all about?
Directed by Colin Trevorrow (making his feature debut) and written by Derek Connolly, Safety Not Guaranteed stars Aubrey Plaza as Darius, a grumpy magazine intern who jumps at the chance to join cocky journalist Jeff (New Girl's Jake Johnson) and another intern (Karan Soni as Arnau), when Jeff suggests they track down and interview a man who's placed a classified ad looking for a companion for time travel.
Driving to Ocean View, Washington, they soon discover that the man in question is scruffy supermarket employee Kenneth (Mark Duplass) but as Darius begins to train as his partner under the pretext of answering his ad, she starts to wonder whether he's delusional or whether he's actually onto something. Meanwhile, Jeff reveals that the real reason he's come to Ocean View is to track down an old flame (Jenica Bergere), but he also decides to help nerdy Arnau come out of his shell.
Hitherto best known for scene-stealing support roles, Aubrey Plaza proves she can more than carry a film, delivering a wonderful performance that fuses her permanently grumpy, ultra-cynical screen persona (she's a regular on US TV's Parks & Recreation) with notes of sweetness and hope as she develops a strong bond with kindred spirit Kenneth. Duplass is equally good, refusing to soften Kenneth's edges and making you continually doubt his true mental state, while there's strong comic support from Soni and Johnson, who has strong chemistry with Bergere and, like Plaza, is surely destined for a bigger career.
Connolly's excellent script cleverly keeps you guessing till the end and maintains the perfect balance between quirky comedy and genuine, unexpectedly heartfelt, emotion (for example, when Darius and Kenneth eventually share their real reasons for wanting to travel back in time). Similarly, Trevorrow's pacey direction ensures a steady stream of decent laughs and the film builds to a genuinely thrilling climax.
On top of that, the snappy dialogue is packed with quotable lines (“I like you – you're no-nonsense.” “There's no sense in nonsense, not when the heat's hot ...”) and Trevorrow orchestrates several delightfully off-the-wall moments, such as when Kenneth plays Darius a song on a zither. There's also an inspired cameo, which it would be churlish to spoil here.
Hugely enjoyable and consistently laugh-out-loud funny, Safety Not Guaranteed is pretty much the perfect Sundance movie, thanks to an intelligent, witty script, assured direction and terrific performances from its superb cast. Highly recommended.