Safety Not Guaranteed put Colin Trevorrow on the map and the time travel comedy holds up beautifully on the tenth anniversary.
The time travel ad was originally published back in 1997 in Backwoods Home and written by Senior Editor John Silveira. Silveira got over 1000 responses and they were still coming well into the film’s home entertainment release. I’m sure he is probably getting responses today.
Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 322 Oakview, CA 93022. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
Leave it to Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly to draw inspiration from it. The end result is one of the best movies from 2012. Of course, they make their own changes for the film by changing the address, city, and switching the last two sentences. Other than this, the ad remains exactly the same.
Connolly’s script would earn him a Spirit Award and Waldo Scott Screenwriting Award. Ten years later, it feels unbelievable that a film like this could be made, I do not mean this in a bad way but more so from the perspective of what films are getting greenlit today. You certainly would not find a studio greenlighting this movie. On top of this, micro-budget indies can be an extremely hard sell, even for a title as high-concept as this. It really depends on what studios are look for. At the same time, this is certainly a film that benefits from the likes of Netflix. If you make this film for the the first time today, it’s certainly possible that a streamer would pick it up. Thanks to the success of this film, Trevorrow lands a major studio directing gig for Jurassic World.
Films like Back to the Future have a larger playground because of their budget. This film falls on the other end of the spectrum because the budget runs around $750,000. Trevorrow and company certainly make the best of the budget and time at hand. They have luck working in their favor, too. Plus, the film also features one of the slowest car chases in cinematic history. Making matters worse is that one of the cars just happened to die on them while they were filming. You wouldn’t know this from watching the film! This speaks to the magic of editing and what it does for filmmaking.
Design wise, there’s a truck in the film that looks like it’s over 50 years old. This is also one of those instances where the production just happened to get really lucky. Independent films don’t traditionally have that kind of budget. It just happens to be a case where, to quote The Blues Brothers, G-d works in mysterious ways.
Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) lives at home with her father and works as an intern for Seattle Magazine. One of the writers, Jeff Schwensen (Jake Johnson), wants to investigate the time travel ad. His boss, Bridget (Mary Lynn Rajskub) gives her seal of approval so Jeff brings on both Darius and Arnau (Karan Soni) to help the investigation. They track down the writer and learn that Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass) is a grocery store clerk. Where Jeff’s approach goes terribly bad, Darius is able to get through to Kenneth. Not surprisingly, Kenneth is living this life of paranoia and believes that federal agents are following him. Darius eventually learns Kenneth wants to go back to 2001 because that’s when his girlfriend, Belinda (Kristen Bell), died in an accident. We eventually learn that this is completely untrue.
Meanwhile, Jeff decided to kill two birds with one stone. While Darius is meeting up with Kenneth, Jeff is tracks down an old flame, Liz (Jenica Bergere), and sleeps with her. His efforts in getting Liz to move to Seattle fail and so he passes on some wisdom to Arnau, for better or worse. Following this part of the storyline, Bridget informs Jeff that Belinda is actually alive. In addition to this, federal agents enter the picture because they believe Kenneth is a spy. Kenneth believes that the time travel trip worked and that Belinda was saved. Shortly thereafter, Jeff warns them of the agents and Kenneth soon makes a run for it into the woods with Darius following and apologizing. Against all odds, the time machine works and they vanish.
There’s multiple ways to look at Kenneth. Is this guy crazy or legit? Will the time machine actually work or is it going to end up as a joke? Ultimately, we find out by the end of the movie that this guy means business. When one finds out that Belinda is alive, it’s understandable that people would begin to see Kenneth has a paranoid person.
More than putting Colin on the map, the film gave us proof that Parks and Recreation‘s Aubrey Plaza could lead a film. She plays the role in an emotional way and one that contrasts from her role as April. If not for Funny People, it’s quite possible that Plaza might not even be in the movie. It’s the Judd Apatow film that also led to the lead to be rewritten with her in mind.
Safety Not Guaranteed might be a high-concept low-budget indie but the three leading performances are one of the reasons why this film holds up beautifully ten years after its release.
DIRECTOR: Colin Trevorrow
SCREENWRITER: Derek Connolly
CAST: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere, Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin, Mary Lynn Rajskub
FilmDistrict released Safety Not Guaranteed in theaters on June 8, 2012. Grade: 5/5
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