Hope for the Genre: Safety Not Guaranteed

Posted: July 26, 2012 in Hope for the Genre
Tags: , , , , ,

On this week’s Hope for the Genre: adventure! Time travel! Suspicious government agents! And that guy who is in that show with Zooey Deschanel

Genre: Science Fiction

Medium: Film

The premise: Safety Not Guaranteed begins with a simple, elegant set-up. Morose, loner, Seattle Magazine intern, Darius (Aubrey Plaza), volunteers for an assignment to research an ad put out in a small, vacation town for–of all things–a time travel partner. Darius goes in, accompanied by Jeff the jaded writer (Jake Johnson) and Arnau, an awkward, virginal college student (Karan Soni). Darius discovers Kenneth (Mark Duplass) who put out the ad and is (supposedly) close to having his time machine assembled. Nutty hijinks ensue as Darius & Co. get close to the bizarre truth, but the film inhabits an interesting intersection between drama, comedy, and lo-fi science fiction adventure.

Why it’s awesome: It is exactly that balance between comedy and drama which makes this movie such a gem. Like Darius, we question the veracity of Kenneth’s claims, are at times deeply suspicious of him, and ultimately find ourselves hoping desperately that it’s all true. Jeff and Arnau become a beautiful counterpoint to Darius and Kenneth’s story–Jeff as he revisits a adolescent fling and Arnau as he steps outside of his carefully circumscribed boundaries and learns to live in the moment. Moreover, the cast is completely brilliant, particularly Plaza and Duplass. Through them, the film leaps from charming conceit to a heartfelt examination of the nature of regret. With laughter and occasional tears, Safety Not Guaranteed brings us to the question: can we truly change our lives, with or without a time machine?

Why it’s hopeful: Science fiction has long been considered the refuge of the clinically detailed and plot-ly engaging but emotionally bereft. Supposedly, this is why fantasy will overtake it and destroy us all. But with films like Safety Not Guaranteed, it’s quite clear that science fiction can explore the arenas of the human heart just as well as it can time travel and conspiracy theories. And all the more fun and rewarding when it does all three at once.

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