Thursday, April 25, 2013

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED - An Awesome Time Travel Sci-Fi Romance

[Note: this is a spoiler-free post!]

I first blogged about SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED just under a year ago. I'd flagged it as a comedic SF film with romantic elements, but wasn't sure if the romantic subplot would have an HEA or veer off in another direction entirely.

Since then, the film lingered in the back of my mind and I avoided articles/reviews about it until I could watch it. When it appeared on Netflix, I jumped on it faster than a flea on speed.

The premise of SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is pretty straightforward: "Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel."

The story's central mystery is this: Does Kenneth the supermarket clerk (Mark Duplass) have a time machine, or not?

Here's the trailer:

So what happened with me and SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED? I inhaled this film. I LOVE this film. I want to have babies with it. When it was over, I burst into tears. I was so happy the film ended the way it did. For me, it was a perfect HEA. Technically it's a Happily For Now, and it might not work for all romance lovers, but I thought it was spot on for a science fiction romance. 

Since I didn't know anything about the story beyond the premise and trailer, I truly had no idea which direction it was going to take. I was in a horrible state of suspense throughout. Suffice it to say that SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is a definite science fiction romance. Remove either the SF or the romance and the plot falls apart.

Image source: SafetyNotGuaranteedMovie
Here are some non-spoiler tags:

* This is a low budget, niche film with mostly unknown actors.

* It's a time travel story set in contemporary times. It's clear that writer Derek Connolly and/or director Colin Trevorrow is a seriously hardcore fan of H.G. Wells' THE TIME MACHINE. 

* Kenneth is what I'd call an adventurous, nerdy hero. He may or may not have a mental health issue. He's kinda like a lighter, SF version of Russell Crowe's John Nash character from the film A BEAUTIFUL MIND. And just as hot. Maybe even a little hotter. In addition to his smarts, he's got an amazing physical presence, by which I mean how he stands, poses his body, etc.

* The heroine, Darius (Aubrey Plaza), is a broody loner with a snarky outlook. She's very likeable and the viewer learns about Kenneth's many layers through her eyes.

* The film features lots of great dialogue.

* The humor ranks high on the quirky scale. While it's present throughout the film, it also balances nicely with the story's poignant moments. It's a challenge to integrate SF, heartfelt romance, and comedy, but SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED accomplishes that goal very well.

* There are some light action sequences and most are played out in a humorous way.

* The story offers the fantasy of a fantastical adventure, one accessible to both men and women. If given the chance, would you want to go back in time to change things for the better?

Image source: SafetyNotGuaranteedMovie
I'm trying to put my finger on exactly why this film charmed me so much. Here are a few I identified:

1) Premise. I do like time travel stories, especially ones concerning the machine itself. The magazine ad device was a great reinvention of this trope.

2) Great acting, especially by Mark Duplass. He's magnetic.

3) Plausible, deep romance despite the comedic elements. That said, I'm not sure this film would have worked if it had been anything but a romantic comedy.

4) Ingenuity bred by the low budget. The tech in this film is purposely homegrown, which was part of the appeal. The movie didn't need a bunch of splashy effects. So what sensawonder elements are in the film end up making a strong impact.

5) The story explores interesting themes, including an examination of the line between brilliance and insanity and coming to terms with one's uniqueness.

6) The romance dealt with issues of trust between the hero and heroine in a way that I normally only read about in SFR books. I was amazed at the strong focus on interpersonal dynamics. The ability to take such a risk is one reason I'm a big fan of niche/experimental films.
Image source: SafetyNotGuaranteedMovie
Are there flaws? Sure. When the story left Kenneth and Darius I really wanted to get back to them. I wanted to know more about some things and less about others. Some jokes fell flat for me. There are also some possible continuity errors (and one definite one. It's not a spoiler to reveal that one character's hairstyle changes about five times during the course of a scene. Unintentional humor there!). 

Some SF fans might be frustrated by the lack of time travel technobabble. And I feel there's a disconnect between how the heroine looks (conventionally, she's very pretty) and what we're told about her character (she's an outcast). But the story is so much fun the perceived flaws didn't detract from my enjoyment.

Make no mistake--SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is a niche film meant for certain fans. This is no Brad Pitt big budget SFR. The title alone is an indication of its purpose. But it's a superb example of what an SFR film has to offer--for both women and men. Go see it!

Joyfully yours,