Solid performances, witty plot ‘Guaranteed’ here


Source material for film has ranged from, at the prestigious end, masterpieces of world literature and drama and momentous historical events, down the slide to pulp fiction and comic books to, in recent years, old TV shows and video games and even theme park rides.

I suppose it was inevitable than sooner or later somebody would make a movie based on a classified ad.

Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke…You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

This ad ran in Backwoods Home Magazine in 1997. Perhaps through its combination of mysterious content and matter-of-fact language, it gained attention online, even though, as it turned out, it was penned by an editor as a space-filling joke.

Now it’s been made into Safety Not Guaranteed, Colin Trevorrow’s sweetly amusing hybrid of slacker romantic comedy and science fiction.

The heroine is Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a woebegone, vaguely snarky nerd-girl intern at Portland Magazine.

She and another intern, a lovelorn young Indian named Arnau (Karan Soni) are detailed to assist Jeff (Jake Johnson) a snide, obnoxious reporter for the magazine, to travel to an Oregon seaside town and investigate the ad.

It quickly becomes clear that Jeff pitched the story only as an excuse to travel to the town and reconnect with an old flame from his teen years, so Darius and Arnau end up doing most of the legwork.

Darius soon finds that the ad was placed by Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a strange but scruffily attractive stock clerk at a supermarket. She presents herself as a respondent to the ad. He’s mistrustful, but the two gradually bond, and begin to fall in love as they prepare for the trip back—but to what time period, and why?

If this all sounds a little on the too-cute-by-half side to you, I can only tell you that I went into Safety Not Guaranteed bracing myself for the worst in urban-hipster adorableness, and was won over.

The script, by Derek Connolly, has some witty dialogue, and maybe more importantly a terrific structure that’s generous to all the characters, almost like that of a Shakespearean pastoral.

The movie’s brevity helps, too. I might have preferred a lighter, more ambiguous touch to the movie’s final few minutes, but that’s just a personal taste.

Better still are the performances.

I regret to say I’m not strong enough to resist the charms of young Plaza, with her skeptical glower that shifts occasionally into an unexpected smile, and just about everyone else in the cast brings something to the party as well.

Indeed, the subplot involving Johnson—sort of a leaner, less virile Mark Ruffalo—was almost, for me, almost more successful than the main plot, in part because of the mature, grounded sexiness of Jenica Bergere as the old girlfriend Jeff’s there to see.

He reconnected with her on Facebook, of course—a much more common way, these days, of going back in time.

Opens June 15 at Harkins Theatres Valley-wide.


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