Mark Duplass has been kicking around in the independent film world for the better part of a decade. After The Do-Deca Pentathlon is released in very limited fashion this Friday, Mark along with his brother Jay will have five directing credits under their belt.
Their two films prior to Do-Deca, 2012s Jeff Who Lives At Home and 2010s Cyrus have been by far their most successful films, I would imagine partly because of the names involved. 2012 may prove another quality year in their directorial filmography, but it also appears to be a huge breakthrough year for Mark as an actor.
He has already appeared in four films so far in 2012: Darling Companion, Your Sister's Sister, People Like Us, and Safety Not Guaranteed. I went into Safety Not Guaranteed not knowing very much about Mr. Duplass. The big draw for me was Aubrey Plaza, whose April Ludgate character on Parks and Recreation is a personal favorite of mine (as is mostly everyone on that show). I now greatly look forward to seeing more of Duplass in the future.
The poster for Safety Not Guaranteed does about as concise a job of summing up the general plot as I can. An oddball rural Washington man named Kenneth (Duplass) puts an ad in a local paper asking for someone that will go back in time with him. In the titular ad, he suggests they bring their own weapons, and says safety is not guaranteed.
A journalist named Jeff (Jake Johnson) with the ulterior motive of hooking up with an old ex-girlfriend, takes two interns (Plaza and Karan Soni) with him to investigate the mysterious ad. While Jeff sees this excursion as nothing more than a joke, Plaza is immediately drawn into the mystery, and as she gets closer and closer to the isolated and seemingly crazy Kenneth, she inevitably begins to question whether or not he's actually as nuts as everyone thinks.
First time writing/directing combo Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow respectively (Connolly won the screenwriting award at this year's Sundance Film Festival) have created what so far is one of the more enjoyable films of the year. Safety Not Guaranteed is a crowd pleaser through and through, with an ending that left me with more than a few questions, yet remained one of the more satisfying in recent memory.
It may be small in stature (currently playing in 164 theaters), but it has a big enough concept to keep audiences compelled throughout its brisk 85-minute run time. While seeming to masquerade as your typically goofy, indie comedy, Safety Not Guaranteed also hides a surprising amount of emotional depth, which really surfaces when we learn why Duplass' Kenneth and Plaza's Darius desire to go back in time. Jake Johnson's seemingly unconnected side-plot is similarly heartfelt, and actually parallels the overall themes of the film's primary plot pretty nicely.
Duplass and Plaza have a unique but charming on-screen chemistry that elevates most of the scenes they share together. They're both likable in an eccentric way and you root for both of them. The question is just what exactly we are rooting for. I have always liked Plaza's brand of straight-faced, deadpan humor, and while she displays that to some extent here, most of the more memorable laughs come courtesy of Johnson and his interactions with Karan Soni's Arnau.
But as I said, the comedy is largely secondary here, and while the emotional beats that are hit may not be the type that anyone will remember as time passes, they are very effective in the moment.
If you'd like to see a movie you likely know very little about, yet will most likely enjoy a great deal, Safety Not Guaranteed is just that movie.