Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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Safety Not Guaranteed

Film #375


Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.

Year 2, Film #10

THE REVIEW: This is going to be a great review. At least I think it’s going to be a great review and the reason I think that is because I’m conflicted. When this film came out last summer I remember a whole bunch of people – film people that is, not a more average joe that you’ll see on the streets – could not stop talking about this film. Everyone had to go see it, it was phenomenal from beginning to end (The Kings of Summer is that recommendation from me for this year although it isn’t as universally loved like Safety Not Guaranteed). Suffice it to say, I went into this film with fairly high expectations and the bottom line is, they weren’t met. I see where the praise comes from and it deserves a lot of it, but there are just parts that I found shocking (in a bad way). But what I find most interesting, and the reason why I’m conflicted, is because the long I sit here writing this review, the more the film is growing on me.

To say Safety Not Guaranteed follows a certain style or type of film wouldn’t be fully accurate. Sure, it’s part comedy and part drama, it’s an independent film, and it’s got some thrilling aspects to it as well. But the best way to classify this would be to say it’s a film about human nature and other basic human things. There’s a whole bunch of films that I’ve watched in this marathon – Lars and the Real Girl, Dan in Real Life, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Lymelife, et al. – that also fit this description. And I don’t think I’ve seen one yet, the aforementioned list included, that I haven’t liked. For me at least, there’s something about watching a film that’s so honest. It can still be fictional and include things like time travel, which Safety Not Guaranteed does, but what it really does is let you stop and think for a while. You’re not necessarily entertained by intricate plots, big action scenes, laugh out loud jokes, or tearjerking moments. You’re entertained by the banality of what’s going on. Most of life is occupied by repetitive and trivial tasks: a third of your life is spent sleeping, most are in school until at least twenty-one years of age, there’s time spent eating, bathing, hanging out. Obviously this is a gross simplification and in fact many of these actions, like school for example, are some of the most rewarding times in your life. Sleeping is another big one; that’s when we dream and collect our thoughts. The key is to find those feelings of what it’s like to eat your cereal in the morning still half asleep waiting for the coffee to kick in or the euphoria you experience after being awake for an entire day. Safety Not Guaranteed along with the other films I mentioned and more all get this. Safety Not Guaranteed doesn’t try to be flashy; it justis. And the result is a surprisingly touching and thought-provoking film.

But Safety Not Guaranteed is not without it’s flaws. Unlike films such as Lars and the Real Girl (I’ll focus on this one specifically since it too has a slightly abnormal story), Safety Not Guaranteed lacks focus. As much as I love the characters of Jeff (Jake Johnson) and Arnau (Karan Soni), they just seemed tacked on. It’s as if the filmmakers thought the A-storyline – the developing story between Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Kenneth (Mark Duplass) – wasn’t enough and wanted to incorporate a subpar B-storyline in the mix. It’s not a bad second story, mainly because the characters are so likable, but it doesn’t fit. It would be one thing if the lessons and insights gleaned from Jeff and Arnau somehow tied in with those from Darius and Kenneth, but as far as I could tell, there was no big revelation. And compared to the unique and interesting Kenneth who is working with Darius to go back in time, Jeff trying to hook up with an ex-girlfriend from twenty years ago isn’t all the original or exciting.

All that being said, the good and the bad, the one point I want to return to is that the film is still growing on me. I have a feeling that a few months down the road, I’ll think back to the film and this review and wonder why I didn’t fully enjoy it. Maybe then I’ll re-watch it and see something completely different that takes my breath away and leaves my jaw on the ground. While I definitely feel some of that now having just watched it for the first time and would recommend watching it yourself, I don’t believe it’s some masterpiece like others were making it out to be. 

THE RATING: 4 out of 5