Like the best examples form the independent sci-fi genre lately, ”Safety Not Guaranteed” contains a great idea about something fantastical that turns out to merely be an effective platform for a story about people finding connections.
Just like ”Never Let Me Go” was a cold treatise on destiny and purpose and Another Earth was about regret and the desire for a chance to put things right, ”Safety Not Guaranteed” is a parable for throwing caution to the wind when you feel yourself falling in love.
By the time of the final sequence – when you find out what you’ve been wondering all along – it almost doesn’t matter how it turns out. The introverted, guarded hero Kenneth (Duplass) and the cute, sardonic Darius (Plaza) have unearthed a kindred spirit in each other in a place neither of them ever expected.
Darius is a put-upon intern at a lifestyle magazine who’s sent as part of a three-man team to investigate a story about a guy who’s placed a classified ad looking for someone to travel back in time with. She’s accompanied by another intern, the even dorkier Arnau, and the manchild reporter Jeff (Johnson), more interested in hooking up with an old flame in town for a roll in the hay than working.
Like Darius, we find Kenneth a little deluded about his sense of self-importance as the three start to case him out for the story. She approaches him posing as a respondent for the ad while her co-workers hang back, and at first Kenneth’s insistence on military-style tactics and security makes him weird, even a little scary.
But Darius sees something in him and aside from everything else going on, the pair start to have plain old-fashioned fun together, running around the woods as he teaches her to fight, shoot guns and protect herself. Because, as the ad says – giving the movie its title – he doesn’t know what will happen when they go back in time.
Darius finds she doesn’t know whether to listen to her heart (which feels like Kenneth is the connection in life she doesn’t know she’s been looking for) and her mind, which reminds her that she’s already helped him break into some sort of high tech lab and that he might be a dangerous nutjob.
Don’t expect any of the paradoxes or Butterfly Effect exposition that accompanies other movies about time travel – it’s a love story first and foremost, and something about the script and the characterisations will gradually warm your heart just like it does Darius, Kenneth and everyone else around them.