Safety Not Guaranteed

This movie is beautiful. It is nearly flawless. It is pitch-perfect and all the other terms you use to describe good cinema. It’s a romantic comedy sort of but it’s also deeply sad, and it has this incredible ending I don’t want to spoil. But I will tell you that the entire audience spontaneously broke into applause when this one thing happened at the end, which I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced before. Also I was crying. Rom/com my butt! That’s just a good picture show.

It’s about Aubrey Plaza, who is playing her usual character. She’s grouchy and salty and hates everything. Her father, Jeff Garlin, tells her that she’s sad and doesn’t have any friends, and that her college roommate says she’s a virgin (“We’re facebook friends!”), and he’s worried about her. The movie quickly establishes that she’s a poorly-treated intern at some Seattle magazine run by Mary Lynn Rajskub, who’s demanding story ideas from her bored underlings. The amazing Jake Johnson proposes one–someone has posted an ad in the paper that is kooky and could make for a hilarious piece of bullshit journalism. The editor gives the ok, assigns him Aubrey Plaza and a nerdy Indian guy (ok I’ll admit I’m tired of the nerdy Indian guy trope) as his assistants, and we’re off!

There’s so much else going on in this story though. It’s about regret, and sorrow, and all the different reasons people have for wanting to go back in time. And the whole movie is suffused with this gentle tragedy, this awareness that what’s done is done, and everyone is just getting older and that’s that. Jake Johnson slowly reveals that his secret agenda in pitching this story is that the ad was posted in the town he grew up in, and he wants to reconnect with his high school girlfriend because he’s realized his life has gone off track. Aubrey Plaza’s reason is that she wants to stop her mother from being murdered.

It’s in the revelation of details that these plots and side plots become so affecting. Jake Johnson’s old girlfriend turns out to be not some obvious boring babe but an actual 30-something woman–gorgeous, but you know, full-figured, with wrinkles, and he has to overcome his years of plastered-on douchebaggery to continue pursuing her. For some reason watching this happen is super compelling. Seeing into the soul of a sad sad man and finding that what he really wants is just a lady who’s a good person, a partner, and he wants to have a nice home and he wants to be connected to his past. And then the movie doesn’t bullshit us on this point, though, either–the woman in question has her own thing going on, her own thoughts on the subject, and it’s not just about him becoming a man or whatever. Indeed that sideplot does not end well and it’s suddenly crushing when it doesn’t. Poor Jake Johnson, driving his go-cart and sobbing! More details: Plaza doesn’t just say “I want to stop my mom from being murdered.” She tells the story of the murder, and in the details it becomes devastating. The details that you’d remember, if your mom actually was murdered. The annihilating guilt and shame. Mark Duplass plays the time traveler and again, there are all these nuances and well-chosen details that turn him from a kooky weirdo who you’d never believe anyone could fall in love with into someone I’m pretty sure I had an intense romance dream about last night.

The performances were so good, every single one. Jake Johnson plays “Nick” on The New Girl with Zooey Deschanel, and we’ve been remarking this whole time about what a fucking star he seems like. I think everyone on that show is really good, but Jake Johnson stands out to the max. He takes it to the next level in this movie. And Mark Duplass! When he showed up I was thinking, how am I going to buy this dude as an emo romantic figure? I know him from The League. But he seriously brings it. There’s a scene with a campfire and a zither that I can barely even think about it’s so touching. By the end of the movie just looking at his face made my eyes get all wet and sad. What in the world!?

I feel like I’ve already said too much, but the film is really about its story (which my film scholar old man described as “impeccable”) and it’s hard to talk about it without going into the plot. It’s the first loosely-described rom/com I can remember seeing that doesn’t have a slack middle section and/or a contrived conflict and/or a hacky ending of some sort. Everything fits together so perfectly. It’s also very funny, I think I’m making it sound morbid. It’s both!

When the heat gets hot, do you have a partner who’s got your back? Bottom line.

I am pleased to see this has a 92% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Thank you and good morning

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2 Responses to Safety Not Guaranteed

  1. kerry says:

    SPOILER QUESTION!

    What are we supposed to take away from the original dead girlfriend story and the subsequent alive-girlfriend reveal? I want to believe it’s that Kenneth was actually an even more screwed up sad dude than we initially realized, and maybe when he heard April Ludgate’s story about her dead mom he felt like he couldn’t tell the truth about his reason for going back being that he wanted to atone for being a creepy weirdo who crashed his car into his love object’s boyfriend’s house. But the internet tells me that actually his first trip back in time saved his girlfriend/love object, which seems so much weaker and less enthralling than my initial reading of the events! I have only seen the movie once on a plane under the influence of Xanax and champagne, so I need a second opinion that does not belong to internet movie review hivemind.

    Mark Duplass! Would bone now forever

  2. Steve Schroeder says:

    I thought this movie was nice.
    Hated the ending. Really didn’t want or need that from this movie. Felt it coming, didn’t want it, betrayed what was good about the movie.

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