Feature-debuting director Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed marks the rarest of indie comedies — the speculative kind — as Jeff, a cocky magazine writer (Jake Johnson, TV’s New Girl) in Seattle, relies on his intern, Darius (Aubrey Plaza, TV’s Parks and Recreation), to use her feminine wiles to get close to the lonely grocery clerk/would-be time traveler (Mark Duplass, Your Sister’s Sister) in a neighboring town who wrote the ad, so Jeff can write about the kook.
And just as Darius finds that the man is not the complete conspiracy-minded loon she assumed, Safety Not Guaranteed unfolds not quite as expected, either. Derek Connolly’s first feature screenplay is small in scope, yet big in ideas, and may not necessarily end in the manner one thinks it will.
But the real surprises come from its winning cast, particularly Plaza. In danger of being typecast for her mopey, detached millennial April Ludgate (at which she’s brilliant) on Parks and Rec, the young actress ventures nowhere near that lazy embodiment of snark. And she certainly could. Similarly, Johnson does not retread his stock in trade (the acidic yet likable schlub), instead making his character such a major dick, he could earn stripes for it. Luckily, Connolly gives him an arc — and, therefore, dimension.
Turning in great work in smaller parts are the ever-reliable Mary Lynn Rajskub (TV’s 24), newcomer Karan Soni (Worst. Prom. Ever.) and character actress Jenica Bergere (Chasing Mavericks). All make such a strong showing with what relatively little time they’re given, Connolly could have written an entire film around them, and I would be happy. As is, I’m perfectly happy with the one we’re given: admittedly a tad twee, but a gem to which the term “ostentatious” dare not apply.
Amusingly, Sony Pictures’ Blu-ray includes a brief bit about the 1997 humorous classified ad that inspired this wonderfully human story. —Rod Lott
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• Worst. Prom. Ever. film review
• Your Sister’s Sister Blu-ray review