Thursday, January 31, 2013

Safety Not Guaranteed [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

For me this isn't even a movie a remembered until a couple days ago. I knew it had come out last summer, but I've had a busy summer and winter and it completely escaped my mind. All three leads are on comedy shows on television that I really like. Aubrey Plaza has been on Parks and Recreation for five seasons now as April Ludgate. Mark Duplass has been starring on The League for four seasons now as Peter Eckhart. Finally Jake Johnson has been starring on New Girl for two seasons now as Nick Miller. All are three excellent shows and this, based on a true article that was actually in a paper, movie is probably the biggest surprise to me from last year.

Safety Not Guaranteed follows the story of a struggling college graduate, Darius (Aubrey Plaza), who works as an intern at a Seattle magazine. A writer, Jeff Schwensen (Jake Johnson), has an idea for an article. He's found a classified ad in a newspaper that reads:

["Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."]

He proposed his story idea to his editor, Bridget (Mary Lynn Rajskub), who tells him to take two interns to help him with the story. He chooses Darius and another intern, Arnau (Karan Soni). Arnau is interning to diversify his resume as he is majoring in biology. The three travel to Ocean View and in addition to writing the story, Jeff reveals he's here to try and get together with a past lover, Liz (Jenica Bergere). They find out that the person who printed the ad is Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass), a stocking clerk at a local grocer. Jeff initially approaches Kenneth, but is turned down. This leaves Darius in charge of befriending Kenneth and getting information so they can write their article. Along they way we find out who Jeff's mystery lover is and Arnau finds some much needed self-confidence. All while a bizarre yet charming relationship blossoms between Darius and Kenneth as they prepare to go back in time.

This movie looks good, sounds good, and the cinematography is pretty good as well. But that's not what makes this excellent. As this movie went on I could feel myself getting more and more into it. I think this is what made it so superb to me. You could get into where the characters were coming from early on and understanding their thoughts and actions only grew as the movie went on. I love character development in a movie so much. For example, at first you could see that Darius was "lost in the world" (shout-out to Kanye there). But as the movie went on you see her true colors, feelings and thoughts about everything. Being able to connect with the characters in a movie and perceive yourself feeling what they feel is tough to do. But this movie nails it on the head. The writing, done by first time writer and producer, Derek Connolly, is amazing. It beings the characters to life, as I've already said, but it also gets you into the story and  as well as makes you laugh. The dialogue between the characters, especially Kenneth and Darius, feels real. The laughter is there in abundance, but when things get serious, the dialogue gets emotional and grounded. 

Enough about the characters though, lets get to the actors that did an awesome job playing them. Jake Johnson is one of the new actors of the past couple of years that has really emerged as a outstandingly funny guy. He's sidesplitting in New Girl, and his role in 21 Jump Street is a riot. While he's funny as Jeff, this was a very seriously played role. A man going into his past and wanting to make something of his empty-ish present. Another guy that's really type-cast I think as a "funny man" the past few years, even though he had a small part in Zero Dark Thirty, is Mark Duplass, who plays Kenneth. Kenneth has a lot of "does he really think this" moments. But he's also a guy with a past that he's altered in his mind to make things seem better in the present that Duplass plays very well. Finally, Aubrey Plaza is amazing in this lead role as Darius. This is probably the best performance of her young career. She always brings that nonchalant humor and sarcasm, while in this she gets deep as well. There are a couple of scenes in this, with Mark Duplass, where she keeps that sarcastic tone yet gets surprisingly emotional. I can not say enough good about all three main actors in this.

The acting, coupled with the humor and story, are the best reasons to watch this and the three lead characters show they're more than just really funny people. The writing by first timer, Derek Connolly is perfect and the story keeps you engaged and laughing throughout. This isn't without minor flaws though, the ending was pretty unexpected, at least to me. There are also a couple of sub-plots that are odd (to me at least), but a decent way to develop the characters a little more. I loved the cameos that Jeff Garlin and Kristen Bell had in this too. Just another added bonus to this. The length is perfect and I never felt myself even wanting this to end. All in all this is the biggest surprise coming out of 2012 and I'm sad that I didn't pay enough attention to watch Safety Not Guaranteed before almost a month into 2013.

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