Painfully quirky indie comedy goes nowhere
– by Shawn Conner
Safety Not Guaranteed has quirky indie romantic comedy written all over it, from the title to the casting to the Star Wars jokes. The only thing missing is a song by The Shins.
For this reviewer, at least, the movie goes wrong in the first 10 minutes, with an editorial meeting of an only-in-the-movies type for something called Seattle Magazine (the movie is set in Washington State). Belief is further compromised when a reporter for this magazine, while investigating the story he proposed, doesn’t identify himself as such to his subject, a guy who has placed a newspaper ad for a companion to travel back in time with him.
Instead, the reporter – Jeff, played by Jake M. Johnson – pretends to be answering the ad. Never mind that the filmmakers have apparently never heard of Craigslist; the journalist misrepresenting himself to get the story – particularly a story like this – is not only completely unethical, but also a plot contrivance not even worthy of Lois Lane in a ’50s Superman comic.
Want more? Okay, how about: a main character who, it’s revealed in a ridiculous scene, has a prosthetic ear that is a big deal for that one scene and then is never brought up again. How about: an intern who’s not getting paid for investigating a story but who nonetheless goes along for a ride with the story’s subject and in essence becomes an accessory to armed robbery (a point never brought up in the movie).
How about: time-traveler dude with the prosthetic ear suddenly turning into a sensitive Sufjan Stevens-style troubadour while playing a zither around a campfire. How about; a completely meaningless subplot involving the reporter pursuing a high-school sweetheart, hoping to rekindle the flame.
Safety Not Guaranteed has some funny moments, though. Aubrey Plaza is her usually delightful deadpan self until she’s not – that is, until she’s forced to be all serious and dramatic in scenes loaded with banal sentimentality. Karan Soni, as an uptight gaming nerd, also gets some decent lines and has great chemistry with Plaza and Johnson. And I’ll say this for Safety Not Guaranteed; it’s barely 90 minutes.
And that includes the credits, which place the movie’s Star Wars jokes in a different context. It turns out the film’s sound was mixed at Skywalker Ranch, which of course is owned by Star Wars mastermind George Lucas. Maybe for their next quirky indie comedy, the filmmakers could just pucker up and plant one on George’s fat ass, and spare us the Stormtrooper quips.