Safety Not Guaranteed – 5 stars
What are the chances I’d see two Mark Duplass movies back-to-back much less one I’d rate a 0 and one I’d rate a 5? This is a sweet, whipsmart picture about three Seattle magazine employees – two interns (Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni) and a writer (Jake Johnson) – who go to Northern California to do a piece on a guy (Duplass) who put out an ad to go back in time, looking for a companion. The writer took the job solely to nail an old high school girlfriend he found on Facebook (Jeneca Bergere). Plaza is along for the ride and Soni, a geeky Indian techie, only took the internship to round out his resume’. Plaza becomes intrigued by Duplass, Johnson falls for his target, and it turns out time travel may be possible.
This is a dual story between four people looking to connect. Duplass bonds with Plaza while Johnson and Soni engage in a mentor-mentee dance. Best, what seems a goof assignment to write an ironic, hip piece on a quirky dude masks a couple of crises of conscience, place and purpose.
Everybody is excellent, but Johnson is particularly strong as an urban scammer who uses the story as a cover to hook up with a high school flame and realizes how empty he feels in the arms of a real woman. She asks what he’s doing, he responds that he has an Escalade, she clarifies “no, I meant with your life” and he responds “I just told you.”
When she puts up her guard, points out the error of his idealization, and his fairy tale collapses, he runs to Soni and screams in the geek’s face to get off the Internet, away from his safety bubble and live a life. Johnson’s character is emblematic of the maturity of the writing. Normally, he’s the dick, the full-of-himself comic relief. As a character, it’s an honorable job, ala’ Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers. But Johnson (and really, all the characters) are given more depth in an economical fashion, making a very funny movie poignant and multi-layered. One of the best films of the year.