Thursday, February 19, 2015

3 Short Paragraphs: Safety Not Guaranteed

2013, d.Colin Trevorrow

I don't really know how to classify this movie.  It's not a straight out comedy or romance or drama or science fiction but it has little elements of each.  It's an odd little bird that has no real home.  I guess it's more akin to the "Sundance style" of film these days, a little indie, a little mumblecore, a little of this and that but avoiding labels.  Whatever it is, it was enough to land director Colin Trevorrow the job of directing the latest installment of the Jurassic Park franchise.  I'm not sure I see the correlation but it's not necessarily a bad thing (given how successful Marvel has been at poaching indie or TV talent to direct its features).

Saftey Not Guaranteed stars Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), Mark Duplass (The League, Cyrus), and Jake Johnson (The New Girl, Let's Be Cops), in a story about a Seattle magazine reporter (Johnson) and his interns (Plaza and Karan Soni) to small-town Washington state to investigate a classified ad submitted by Duplass requesting accompaniment on a time travel journey.  Johnson uses the trip as an excuse to visit an old high-school flame, leaving Plaza with most of legwork of getting the story.  In doing so she befriends Duplass, sharing a kinship with is outsider nature.  There's an undercurrent of weirdness and complexity to Duplass' story, the clear sense that he believes completely in what he's doing, but the crushing reality that he's already lost in time (his clothing and hairstyle is distinctly 1990s) and perhaps a little unhinged.  But Plaza also observes his kindness, his depth of character and enthusiasm, and gets sucked into his world.  Johnson's story, on the other hand, is far more grounded.  He's a lifelong player who still can't forget his first time, and upon encountering his high school lover (Jenica Bergere), he first feels disappointment since she no longer represents the ideal he's upheld in his mind.  But he lets go of his preconceptions and winds up finding a whole person, a complete individual who is beyond anything he could have dreamed of.  He falls quickly for her, only to find that having actual feelings for someone makes things far more complicated.

The curious thing about the film is how disparate its two story threads are from one another, like they're actually two separate, shorter films connected tenuously by location and occupation.  When Plaza/Duplass A-story reaches its climax, the B-story has already resolved, although with minimal satisfaction (it's obvious Johnson has changed as a person because of his experience, but how much is unclear).  When Johnson and Soni find their way into the final moments, the serve no real purpose, story-wise and seem out of place cheering Duplass on.  It's a curious and often enjoyable film, but also a little frustrating because of the questions it leaves unanswered.  It's a little film playing with big ideas (elements of time travel, conspiracy, heist) in a very underplayed manner, which work well, if not always convincingly.  I preferred Johnson's story to the main story, if only because I wanted more out of the time travel, the story and its history really needed to be filled out more.  It stuck so much to Duplass' outsider nature as if to say that was enough, and it really wasn't.  I liked the film, generally, but it left me dissatisfied.