How do you take a wacky premise and make it believable enough to sustain a feature-length film? What’s more, how do you incorporate a science-fiction element in a low-budget indie production? For answers, see the engaging new comedy Safety Not Guaranteed, which won newcomer Derek Connolly the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. If you like low-key, offbeat comedies, consider it a must-see.
The film covers interesting ground, literally speaking, in Washington state, which gives it a fresh look and feel. It’s also extremely well cast. Jake Johnson plays a reporter for Seattle magazine who’s a bit of a wiseguy; he takes on the task of finding the person who placed an oddball classified ad seeking a companion for time travel. The assignment takes him back to his hometown of Ocean View, where he might have a chance to reconnect with an old flame.
He’s also saddled with two interns, a dour college graduate who hasn’t yet found a real job (Aubrey Plaza) and a dense, self-serious student (Karan Soni). Identifying the guy who placed the time-travel ad (Mark Duplass) isn’t very hard, but Plaza has to win his confidence and try to determine if he’s for real.
Connolly’s script is well realized by another newcomer, director Colin Trevorrow. Instead of cheap laughs, they give us observational humor based on character quirks and the natural incongruities that arise when disparate partners join together on a cockeyed quest.
Safety Not Guaranteed was inspired by a genuine classified ad that first appeared in a survivalist magazine in the 1990s and then, years later, went viral on the Internet. Connolly took inspiration from the ad and expanded it into a clever, likable screenplay that fleshes out its characters and doesn’t turn them into cardboard stereotypes. Having independent-film guru Mark Duplass on board, as a costar and coproducer, doesn’t hurt. As audiences are bound to discover during the course of this busy year, he’s a first-rate actor.
Safety Not Guaranteed is now available on DVD and On Demand: