Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012, the debut film of director Colin Trevorrow has finally received limited British release at the tail end of the festive season heralded by a trailer that emphasises the science fiction element and a poster that boasts the critical praise it has received with the quote sources so diminished that it is difficult to read the origin of one is in fact Marie Claire magazine rather than the dedicated science fiction press.
This is not to say that Safety Not Guaranteed is not the feelgood romcom scifi slacker movie of whatever summer you want it to be, but it is important to realise that despite the premise upon which the film is being marketed, in truth science fiction is very low down on the list of boxes ticked, and while it is certainly a different tool to examine past choices, lost opportunities and regret for a path not taken, the end result is little different from any other cleverly scripted and well performed feelgood romcom slacker movie.
Taking advantage of an opportunity to escape from his overbearing and micromanaging boss, Seattle Magazine journalist Jeff (Jake Johnson) volunteers to research a small newspaper advert seeking a companion for a time travel expedition, and with his two interns Darius and Arnau (Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni) travels from the rainy city to the more clement Californian town Ocean View, assigning them the legwork while he attempts to track down his high school sweetheart.
It is Darius who succeeds in locating grocery store worker Kenneth (Mark Duplass) and working her way into his confidence, meeting his opening challenge of “Why do you want to go back?” with her own story of regret, the death of her mother, for which she holds herself responsible. Kenneth is paranoid and possibly delusional, but as Darius investigates further, she finds that at least some of what he has told her is true – he is being followed, and if he was just a crank, why would anyone go to the trouble?
The strength of the film is the excellent performances, a task made easy by writer Derek Connolly’s charming characters and warm dialogue, honest and observant of the human need to constantly revisit and mentally recreate the past in a way more pleasing, but it is disappointing in that time travel feels tacked on as a metaphor for regret, a way to observe the character’s pasts and their wish to change things in their lives, but as the film never carries through to its conclusion, like the failures of their lives, it is a wasted opportunity, a premise rather than a completed work of fiction.
Like so many modern filmmakers, director Trevorrow and writer Connolly, both of whom are listed amongst the ten producers associated with the film, offer an ambiguous ending that aims for cool but gives the impression they found a story they loved for which they had no satisfactory ending. Rather than a surprising twist or a new perspective on the preceding events, the film finishes at the point it was obviously headed for from the opening frames with a scene of a very pretty and no doubt expensive special effect but whose only closure is to indicate for some there may be second chances.
On this evidence it would appear that the touting of Trevorrow as being a possible director for the recently announced Star Wars Episode VII was more likely based on an over excited agent rather than fact, for while he should have a promising career in cinema, his strengths are in human rather than extra terrestrial affairs.
Safety Not Guaranteed is currently on limited release