Sunday, November 11, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) ***½

R, 86 min.
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Derek Connolly
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere, Kristen Bell

“Safety Not Guaranteed” is one of those joyful movie experiences that just burrows into your soul and warms your heart. It isn’t some schmaltzy sugary piece of bubble gum pop, but it has a quirky fun premise, involving and interesting characters, and it doesn’t take you down a path you’ve traveled before. It’s like a childhood romp through the woods, where your instant whim becomes an aspect of the story and an element of the landscape.

The quirkiness is best exemplified by the classified ad that inspires the events in it. The ads reads: “Wanted: Somebody 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. Safety Not Guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”

A Seattle magazine writer finds this ad and brings two interns with him to investigate its legitimacy. The story mostly concentrates on the female intern, played by Aubrey Plaza of “Parks & Recreation”. She gets the confidence of the man who placed the ad, who apparently is quite convinced of his ability to travel back in time. What unfolds is a surprisingly touching story of discovery for the intern, the time traveler and the magazine writer, who has a sub-plot about picking up an old girlfriend that goes in an unexpected direction.

It’s not so much what happens in the film that makes it so enchanting as it is the spirit in which it happens. Certainly such a strange subject makes for somewhat original developments, but the characters are what sell it. Plaza is adorable as a girl that is attractive and intelligent but never quite fits in. Mark Duplass, who plays the time traveler, seems to be making his big time move by appearing in so many projects this year, but this is a defining role for him. And, Jake Johnson of “New Girl” finds a well-tailored role in the writer, who’s a jerk that finds a heart hidden underneath his cool exterior.

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