Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a recent college graduate, just wants to find a job that will eventually get her out of her father’s house and out on her own. Although she can’t get hired as a waitress, she lands an intern position with Seattle Magazine, a not-so-prestigious publication that covers the area in and around its name. In a meeting at which her self-absorbed boss asks the staff to come up with new stories, Jeff (Jack Johnson) a self-absorbed writer, mentions a newspaper ad that reads: 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. Jeff is assigned the story, and when he requests help from interns, Darius strongly requests to join him, not because of Jeff but because her life is so boring that even a fake time-travel story would be interesting. Also along for the assignment is Arnau (Karan Soni), a shy Indian student/intern as smooth as sandpaper and as physically awkward as Edward Scissorhands.
The three of them set out for Ocean View, Washington, where lives Kenneth (Mark Duplass) who looks every bit stuck in the 80’s with his mullet and Datsun 240Z (I think), which was really a 70’s car but big in the 80’s with guys like Kenneth. He works in a grocery store where customers fill out complaint cards about him. He lives in the woods where he clumsily performs ninja-style training. Although Darius finds it insane that Kenneth’s time travel thoughts are legitimate, she has to think twice when it appears that government agents are following him.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow (having directed nothing else that you’d have ever seen) and written by Derek Connolly (having written nothing else that you’d have ever seen), Safety Not Guaranteed is a time travel story, but it’s not about time travel. It’s about people who have experienced regrettable things that they wish to change. It’s about looking back at what was and wondering what could have been. It’s about doing stupid things and wanting to undo them. It’s about having done nothing and wishing you had taken a chance on what might have turned out either fabulous or stupid, either which might have been better than doing nothing. Darius wants to go back because of her mother’s death when she was a teen. Jeff wants to go back because of a woman with whom he had a first sexual experience. Kenneth wants to go back because of a former love interest to whom something bad happened that he wants to reverse.
It’s a wonderful story about hopes, regrets, and wishes. Almost balancing it all out is Arnau, who has something Jeff wants to remove – his virginity – with the help of what seems like buying alcohol for underage girls. But let’s not go there. Instead, let’s go where we can sit around a campfire into which we can throw pieces of our past and wish to either incinerate them to oblivion or set them alight in ways we wish we were able to when they were in our grasp.
To like Safety Not Guaranteed you must like offbeat, Indie films that take chances much like the these characters do. Throughout the film, you’re going to wonder if Kenneth really is capable of time travel. All I can say is that you’ll find out in the very last shot.