J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed: Best Temp Gig Ever


The cynicism of journalism is about rub up against the idealism of science.  However, the science practiced by Kenneth Calloway is a decidedly scruffy, DIY affair.  His unusual classified ad attracts the attention of a Seattle magazine writer, who brings along two lowly interns to help investigate Calloway’s time travel claims in Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York and the Pacific Northwest.

Based on a real classified that became a minor internet sensation, Calloway’s ad seeks: “Someone to go back in time with . . . You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”  To Jeff Schwensen this sounds like the perfect set-up for a mock-the-rube piece (and also represents a good opportunity to hook up with an old summer fling).  At first, Darius Britt, an intern who makes Janeane Garofalo look upbeat, sees it pretty much the same way.  However, when Schwensen’s direct approach spooks the self-styled time traveler, he sends Britt in undercover to win their subject’s trust. 

Much to her surprise, she starts to like the guy—kind of a lot.  After all, Calloway is a socially stunted paranoid delusional—what’s not to like?  Of course, Derek Connolly’s consistently clever script leaves the door open just wide enough for viewers to consider the possibility Calloway is not so crazy after all.  Like they say, just because you’re paranoid . . .

Mark Duplass’s beefy Calloway (somewhat resembling Lon Chaney, Jr. before his transformations) and Aubrey Plaza’s much younger and very petite Britt look like a wildly mismatched couple, but the way they click as kindred outsider spirits makes perfect sense in the film’s’ dramatic context.  Frankly, their romance-in-denial chemistry is shockingly endearing.  Meanwhile, Jake Johnson delivers generous helpings of outrageous humor, of both the politically incorrect and ribald varieties.  You know that obnoxious guy you put up with because he is so unfiltered you want to hear whatever crazy thing he says next?  Johnson nails that vibe as Schwensen (sort of like a Tom Hanks circa Bachelor Party).  Poor Karan Soni is also good sport playing the Arnau, the nebbish straight-man intern, looking appropriately lost amid all the bedlam.

Helmed with sensitivity rarely seen in a genre send-up, Trevorrow nicely balances the comedic bravado with a humanistic sensibility.  Indeed, Safety never moderates Calloway’s twitchiness, nor does it judge him.  Yet, the film offers an unmistakable rebuke to the urban hipster condescension for small town America.  Don’t let the “from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine” copy line set off your quirky indie alarm bells.  It is a film with a sharp edge and a big heart, but it always stays true to its geek roots.  Thoroughly satisfying, Safety Not Guaranteed is enthusiastically recommended for general movie-going audiences when it opens this Friday (6/8) in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle.

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