A Mentally Ill Chain-Store Clerk Claims to Know Hidden Secrets of the Universe in "Safety Not Guaranteed"

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 12, 2012

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Grade: C-

I think it’s the music that bugs me most in these pictures. Why must almost every Sundance hit be accompanied by a noodling acoustic guitar drone that underlines just how lighter-than-air and quirky every goddamn scene is?

Safety Not Guaranteed probably isn’t a terrible movie. For starters, it boasts a fine lead performance from Aubrey Plaza, who, week in and week out on NBC’s Parks And Recreation, makes eye-rolling disdain into something weirdly sexy. Here, she plays a put-upon intern at a trendy magazine, stuck doing all the work for her layabout boss while writing a feature about a local yokel who placed a classified ad seeking a partner for his time-travel adventures.

No, it doesn’t seem like much of a story. And print media budgets being what they are, it’s hard to grasp the shocking allocation of resources devoted to following around a mentally ill chain-store clerk who practices kung-fu and claims to know hidden secrets of the universe. Played by producer Mark Duplass—who has been showing up in entirely too many movies lately—he’s got an awful haircut and a denim jacket, rambling at great length to anyone who will listen about the space-time continuum.

As she does every week on Parks And Rec, Plaza melts adorably in the face of such goofball charm. She thaws better than pretty much any actress working today. But like most Duplass Bros. productions, this one feels awfully thin. These brothers seem to specialize in half-written movies with garbage cinematography, and I would happily donate $10 to buy them a fucking tripod.

There’s a promising subplot with Plaza’s callow boss (a very funny Jake M. Johnson) hooking up with his old high school girlfriend thanks to Facebook, and only slowly discovering what odd, divergent paths life can take us all. But this, like everything else in Safety Not Guaranteed seems to have been abandoned at the idea stage, dropped like a hot potato just when it starts to get interesting.

Overlong at more than 80 minutes, the movie slathers on musical montages to stall for time, and then that ending. Ouch.

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