As impossible as it might sound, the indie comedy-drama film Safety Not Guaranteed was inspired by an advertisement that ran in Backwoods Home Magazine in 1997. The ad was one of two placed by freelance writer John Silveira as a joke, meant to fill space. His surprise was in the response.
He received more than 1,000 responses.
It was this ad that eventually inspired screenwriter Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow to wonder what might have happened if someone else had placed it — like Kenneth Colloway (Mark Duplass), a stock clerk at a local grocery store who spends his spare time decipering time travel.
The ad does attract some attention, including the editorial team of a Seattle magazine, which assigns one of its writers, Jeff Schwensen (Jake Johnson), and two interns (Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni) to investigate the person who placed it. It doesn't take long for the three of them to discover someone who is paranoid about being followed by government agents isn't very easy.
Colloway rejects Schwensen as a companion outright, leaving intern Darius Britt to partner up with the would-be time traveler. Britt, a despondent college student who lives at home with her widower father (Jeff Garlin), must pass a series of training exercises before Colloway is willing to accept her as a companion. As she passes them easily enough, she begins to endear herself to him.
While Britt continues to bond with Colloway, his paranoia is proven real as the Seattle journalists discover federal agents really are following him. At the same time, they debunk his reasons for traveling back in time. The girlfriend he claims that he wants to save is alive. And she was never his girlfriend.
Overall, the film is brought together by an amazingly strong cast, frequently clever writing, and a warmth that comes out of the disillusionment of having to grow up more than time travel storyline. While the characters feel less grounded than those in the more thrilleresque time travel indie Sound Of My Voice and Duplass plays Colloway too affable to ever be considered dangerous, the entire film comes from a different place. It relies more on heart, trust and quirkiness to propel itself.
A bit more about the people behind Safety Not Guaranteed.
On both projects, he will be working with Trevorrow as director. Trevorrow is a long-time film enthusiast who started making shorts when he was only 12. Like Connollly, Trevorrow also graduated from New York University. They met while interning at Saturday Night Live. Trevorrow also produced, directed and wrote a handful of titles, most notably the short Home Base in 2002 and Making Revolution in 2003.
While the entire cast turns in memorable performances, Duplass and Plaza are especially sharp in being purposefully one beat off from everyone else. They do develop an oddball spark between them, even if any flame feels more like friendship than a developing romance. The only place either of them seem to struggle is in a script overreach that gives the character Colloway a prosthetic ear.
Safety Not Guaranteed Bends 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
This is the indie flick that reverses the notion that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Here, precisely, the opposite holds true. It is all the independent parts that somehow manage to elevate Safety Not Guaranteed into an offbeat, feel-good film that (albeit being amazingly light) is plainly deserving of attention.
Safety Not Guaranteed is available for rent or purchase from iTunes. You can also find Safety Not Guaranteed on DVD and Blu-ray via Amazon. The film is also available at Barnes & Noble. Since making appearances at several film festivals this year, the movie earned several awards, with Plaza deservedly earning Breakthrough Performance Award from Young Hollywood Actors (among others) and Connolly receiving the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance.