Thursday, September 19, 2013
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a magazine intern who accompanies a reporter to a small town to investigate an apparent nut-job called Kenneth (Mark Duplass). Kenneth has placed a classified ad in the papers looking for a companion to travel back in time with him. Darius poses as a potential candidate to get the scoop for the magazine but soon finds herself falling for Kenneth, a man who believes he's built a time machine and that government forces are out to stop him. She gets sucked into his world. He seems more alive than most other people around her. Her deadened, bored attitude is the mask of a dreamer cruelly disappointed in life. In a cynical world of shallow entertainment and snarky superiority, she craves sincerity and something to believe in. And that's the power of the film, that she wants to believe him against her better judgement. It should be a matter of faith. But the film undermines this idea with an ending that's too cute by far. Which is disappointing, but doesn't take away too much from what makes the film work, the chemistry between Plaza and Duplass. He's a smart, dog-eared presence, hovering in that zone between charming and odd, somehow knowing how to calibrate enough of each to keep us intrigued and onside. If he was a centimetre more handsome he'd be unbearable. But what, ultimately, gives the film weight, is Plaza's presence. Her ability to go from sulky indifference to dawning reverence on the head of a pin is something else. There's a gravity about her, a sense of real consequence in her emotional response. The fact that it's so reigned in only makes it all the better. She's an actress looking (in vain no doubt) for someone like Godard to build films around her, to glory in, investigate, tease and (maybe break) that presence. So yeah, the film is fine, I liked it, but it's symptomatic of a wider tendency in American indie films to settle for modest likeability, to champion the slightly odd, everything imbued in a mild melancholy. Safety is guaranteed. That's the problem. What this film would've been like with a director interested in ideas (of time travel), in the visual as a moral tool, in giving us a properly odd oddball rather than someone who could be the unconventional lead singer of an indie band. In the end, for all the charm and presence of the leads, it's lightweight, a modestly offbeat rom-com frustratingly close to being a lot more.