“Safety not Guaranteed” is the kind of film that makes you feel very awkward. Don’t misinterpret just from this statement. Awkward can be a good thing and it is in this film. It’s awkward because the characters relationship in the film are painfully real. The delusional formula that accompanies most film relationships is happily missing in Safety Not Guaranteed. Instead, it focuses on the humanity of very different individuals thrown together in the task of digging up a story about a kook in a time machine that might be entertaining. Little do these characters know that they are right about the story for all the wrong reasons.
The main character Darius, played by Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), strains to conform to a society of jigsaw pieces of which she’s in the wrong puzzle. Her pursuit of the time traveler is not for journalistic exploits but for personal reasons. From the moments she spies on Kenneth she sees not a weirdo, as the rest of society has perhaps labeled him, but as fellow kin who don’t quite fit into their cookie cutter society roles. Her foray into adventure with Kenneth is a welcomed departure from her lonely and depressing life as her father points out she is living. Aubrey’s own awkwardness in the role is palpable making her screen presence one of connection to the audience rather than observation for those of us who have felt disconnect from the mainstream.
Mark Duplass’ role as Kenneth straddled the line between crazy and heroic so well that one can never figure out the true nature of his madness till the very end. Kenneth is certainly crazy there is no doubt about that. But his portrayal of crazy is so lovable his awkwardness on the fringes of society is not pitied but commended.
Kenneth’s insecurity about his self adds complexity to his characters This dichotomy of boldness and fear of ridicule is played so well that one can only root for Kenneth as he strives to complete his time machine. Though Darius is the real center of this film it is the actions of Kenneth that drive all the action that occurs. His zany and criminal behavior are both hilarious and terrifying always leaving questions in our mind through the climax of the film.
Adding dimension to the film was a fantastic supporting cast. Jake Johnson’s portrayal of the confident yet broken character of Jeff added both needed comedic thread but a humanity in a form buried underneath crass and machismo. As the director commented, “Jake should get an award for best existential crisis while riding a go-kart.” Adding to that is the straight role of Karan Soni. His character, Arnau, is the most awkward and his insecurity with women and his meek behavior make one want to pity in him. The connection between the character of Mark and Arnau in the later scenes where Arnau is pushed beyond his strict social boundaries in an archetypal yet satisfying moment as Arnau overcomes his lack of confidence with women.
Though the investigation of Kenneth’s time machine invitation are at the heart of the plot, Safety Not Guaranteed is certainly a character-driven film that survives on superb writing and effective acting to make its point on screen. The director, Colin Trevorrow, is able to present a film with an outlandish premise without making it unbelievable or cheesy. Awkwardness pervades throughout this film but when you step away from the theater you may feel awkward yet strangely satisfied that the world is filled with awkward people like you and me and that’s ok.