LocationThe Texas Theater 231 W. Jefferson Blvd. Dallas, TX 75208
DatesSep 7 thru Sep 12
I have no idea whether actress Aubrey Plaza is herself as bitingly sarcastic as the character for which she’s best known, April on TV’s Parks and Recreation. But she’s pitch-perfect in playing the ironically detached young Gen Y woman.
Based on her similar role in the new rom-com (with a possible sci-fi twist) Safety Not Guaranteed, she also seems like she could have matched verbal barbs with Cary Grant in some classic screwball comedy, like Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.
Plaza is the emotional center of director Colin Trevorrow’s self-consciously (a bit too self-consciously) quirky film about love, loss, and time travel. She plays Darius, an intern at Seattle Magazine who volunteers to help one of the pub’s writers, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), get the story behind a mysterious classified ad placed in an Ocean View, Washington, newspaper:
Wanted: Someone 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.
Obviously, they think that whoever is responsible for the ad is a nut. So Jeff, Darius, and fellow-intern Arnau (Karan Soni) trace the post office box listed in the ad to Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a 30-something oddball with a mullet and a jean jacket who works at an Ocean View grocery store and is convinced that government operatives are monitoring his activities. After Jeff is unsuccessful in partnering up with Kenneth, he sends Darius to do the job.
Her approach — pretending to be as paranoid as Kenneth is and flipping the conversation around to make him believe it’s he who must convince her to join his team — works far better. That, and the fact that she’s a lovely-looking lady doesn’t hurt.
We learn that Kenneth wants to return to the year 2001 to save his first girlfriend from dying in an accident. Darius is moved by Kenneth’s seemingly sincere intensity and finds herself growing to like him. She opens up to him in a way she’s never done with anyone before, talking about her guilt at being partially responsible for the death of her mother.
The movie provides a less fanciful storyline about lost love in revealing that Jeff’s primary motive for visiting Ocean View is to try to reconnect with the girl he loved as a teenager, the proverbial one that got away. I was surprised by how much of the film’s short 94-minute running time is spent on the rekindled romance between Jeff and Liz (Jenica Bergere), but it proved a useful reminder that some of us are willing to go to extremes to recover what we lost, extremes that may be only slightly less crazy than believing we can travel through time.
Duplass and Plaza have a nice chemistry together, which saves much of their forcibly wacky dialogue from grating as it might have otherwise. Safety Not Guaranteed goes for a few too many cheap laughs — a montage of Jeff’s drunken bender, the decision to make the second intern a stereotypically nerdy Indian-American science student — to achieve greatness, but the charm of its unique premise proves hard to resist.
In the end, Darius faces a choice not all that different from the one most of us are fortunate enough to deal with in life. When you fall in love, you’re willing to risk stepping into an unknown future with another person. Then why not the past?