The sensibilities of Tyler Durden might do quite a bit of good for films like Safety Not Guaranteed. After all, someone needs to tell the filmmakers behind about 75 percent of these suddenly en vogue quirky, indie comedies -- like Safety Not Guaranteed -- that, in fact, "you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake." Who better than the man who coined the exact phrase?
Yes, the fingerprints and influence of Little Miss Sunshine are all over this one. What we have here are three people, all with their own dysfunction, who wouldn’t ordinarily spend even five minutes chatting around the office water cooler, thrown together for a road trip of the strangest variety. It’s the same general idea, except this group is rolling in an Escalade instead of a VW van, and their target is the person who posted a bizarre classified ad rather than a beauty pageant for pre-teens.
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is an intern at a Seattle magazine. Like many recent college graduates, she is living at her parents’ home and floating through life looking for purpose after the death of her mother. When one of the magazine’s regular staffers, Jeff (Jake Johnson), successfully pitches a story about finding the person behind a classified ad that reads: “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back, Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed,” Darius, along with fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni), volunteers to accompany Jeff on the story.
So to rural Washington the trio heads, where the responsibility of getting more information on Kenneth (Mark Duplass) quickly falls upon Darius. Jeff, it turns out, pitched the story only so he could track down a teenage love, Liz (Jenica Bergere). When his reunion with Liz doesn’t go as he had hoped he turns his attention to getting the awkward Arnau to loosen up. The purpose of the trip is purely tertiary to him.
Darius begins to fall for Kenneth despite the fact that, were this not one of those quirky, indie comedies, he’d be the type of person that you’d probably like to have a restraining order against. He tells great big lies about his dead ex-girlfriend Belinda (Kristen Bell), who, it just so turns out, is very much alive and rants about non-descript “agents” tailing him as he completes work on his time machine.
Darius is trying to cope with the death of her mother any way she can, Arnau desires real human connection, Jeff is coming to terms with impending middle age and Kenneth is very probably a schizophrenic. The message of Safety Not Guaranteed, then, seems to be that if they all just have a little faith in each other everything will turn out all right.
Perhaps I’m too cynical, but what good has this tired theme ever done anyone? Not only is it a dull indie cliché, but it’s also lazy and just plain wrong to think that spending a long weekend with two co-workers that you hardly know and twentysomething that’s off his meds will even start to solve the challenges these characters are facing.
There are a few funny moments – almost all of them courtesy of Plaza’s trademark deadpan humor – but the moments in between, at least for me, were almost totally devoid of spark and invention.