What would you change if you could travel back in time and alter the past? That is the premise explored in Safety Not Guaranteed.The inspiration for this film is based on an actual ad in a survivalist newspaper that read “WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. I have only done this once before. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed.”
Jeff (Jake Johnson), a journalist for Seattle Magazine, is anxious to pursue the story and convinces his boss to allow him to recruit two interns to accompany him to his home town of Ocean View, Washington, in search of the time traveler. Jeff has an ulterior motive, thinking that the trip will give him an opportunity to reconnect with his former high school flame. He brings Darius (Aubrey Plaza), the semi-goth, quirky loner girl, and Arnau (Karan Soni), the nerdy, virginal Indian-American boy, in tow. They are in search of Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the thirty-something paranoid grocery clerk who placed the ad. Kenneth is perceived by his fellow workers as a marginally obsessed weirdo. Really? Jeff attempts to approach Kenneth under the guise of being a candidate for time travel, but Kenneth quickly sees through the ruse. So Jeff sends Darius to intercept Kenneth at the grocery store and, after some flirty banter, she scrawls her phone number with a Sharpie on a Campbell’s soup can. So begins the love interest between Kenneth and Darius, who bond over exercises in the woods to sharpen their skills in preparation for the upcoming voyage.
Kenneth wants to go back in time to save his girlfriend from dying when a car crashed through her house and killed her. (Later it is revealed that his “girlfriend” never returned his affection and is still living.) Darius wants to go back in time to save her mother who stopped after work to pick up some chocolate milk for her. Unfortunately, Darius never received the chocolate milk she so insistently demanded, because her mother was murdered in the parking lot of the gas station. How’s that for a guilt trip?
Predictably, Darius and Kenneth become entwined as they spend an increasing amount of time together preparing for their time travel adventure. Jeff rekindles his old flame, and Arnau experiences his sexual awakening. Safety Not Guaranteed is a delightful, low-budget indie film with a science fiction twist. The characters are sustainable and believable despite living on the fringe. The ending is fully satisfying and brings the plot full circle in an ingenious, unexpected way. If you’re a fan of low-key, offbeat comedies this is a must see. The film’s writer, Derek Connolly, was given the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.