Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) – Review

Review: Safety Not Guaranteed is a heartfelt and funny indie drama. The film is about Darius, a magazine intern who has sort of felt lost since her mom died when she was young. During her latest assignment, accompanying a writer and another intern for the magazine on a story about a guy Kenneth who thinks he can time travel, she for the first time finds something she cares about and can believe in. Director Colin Trevorrow has created a film that both encompasses all the generic and typical genre devices of a quirky indie dramedy and has a fresh and wonderfully genuine spark to it. Trevorrow seemingly checks off each expected narrative component that a viewer familiar with indie dramedies would anticipate being in the film: an overall oddness and ironic tone to the world and quirkiness to the characters, characters stifled by seemingly meaningless existences (and jobs), a low budget feel (hand held camera work, natural lighting and so on), and emotive stares saying more than words (among others). However, all that being true, and all that being seemingly done to death in almost every indie dramedy to date, Tervorrow still infuses the film with a gleeful optimism and infectious almost magical tone that something special might truly happen, which makes the film completely compelling. This is only built upon by Trevorrow’s great characters. While in a general sense, the film may seem generic on the surface; on a deeper level these characters are still vital and relatable to the audience because Trevorrow and his actors give them good character moments and depth. They feel real and fleshed out, connecting them to the audience (and thereby the audience cares what happens to them). What they have to say means something and is not just trivial or plot-driven. Trevorrow also does a good job keeping the film brisk and moving, when it easily could have been overlong and meandering (which would have greatly hurt its impact). There are three main characters and two principal supporting characters, and yet even with the film’s short runtime, each has a full narrative journey and meaningful experience. And, the ending is utterly satisfying. Much like Primer, Safety Not Guaranteed is a low budget indie that gives big budget time travel narratives a run for their money and is better than most (thanks to great characters).

Techincal, aesthetic & acting achievements: Colin Trevorrow, making his feature debut, has done well for himself creating a narrative that is structurally sound and characters that the audience can take stock in, while seemingly complying to the stylistic requirements of the current indie dramedy genre. I look forward to seeing what he does next. Composer Ryan Miller’s score is almost overly generic for the genre (though, it will probably be well received for fans not yet fully burnt out on the style – here is an example), but still works well with the material overall.  Cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke and production designer Ben Blankenship, much like Miller’s score, stylistically are aligned with what we typically expect from the genre. Though, at the same time, having the film visually exist completely in a real toned down space worked well juxtaposed to the narrative device of time travel. The cast is great throughout, and is what makes the film special. Kristen Bell is good in a small role, while Jenica Bergere and Karan Soni are great in their supporting roles. Jake M. Johnson brings a lot of raw energy to the film, playing magazine writer Jeff as someone cool and self-satisfied in a superficial way, but sad on a more personal level. Mark Duplass’s character Kenneth on paper seems to be hard to play – being weird and paranoid, yet endearing – but he plays him almost effortlessly. This is really Duplass’s acting breakthrough. Aubrey Plaza plays Darius somewhat along the same lines as her character in Parks and Recreation – being disengaged – but rather than it being motivated by “it is not cool to care” here Darius is troubled and depressed. She desperately wants to feel something, but life has just let her down so far. It is strong work by Plaza as well.

Summary & score: Safety Not Guaranteed may not be one of the great remembered indie dramas of the decade (or even year), but it is certainly compelling, different and interesting. 8/10

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