Sunday, February 24, 2013

Safety Not Guaranteed: Is It Ever?

This 2012 sort-of drama, sort of comedy, sort of sci-fi, sort of mumblecore, all the way awesome flick won screenwriter Derek Connolly a writing award at Sundance. He deserved it. The movie was inspired by a fake newspaper classified ad seeking a partner for time travel without any guarantee that either person will escape unscathed. But the film's true concern is the all-too-real risks anyone takes when they open themselves up to another person.

The movie follows a trio of magazine writers who go rather clumsily undercover to write a profile on the man who placed the ad, the reliably excellent Mark Duplass. A young intern with pain in her past agrees to pose as the interested partner, and as she tries to convince Duplass's Kenneth to trust her, she begins to believe in him as well.

Her boss, Jeff, is also pursuing a type of time travel: he agreed to take the story in order to look up an old girlfriend, love for whom he confuses with nostalgia for a younger, more hopeful version of himself. Jeff, who looks like Oliver Platt crossed with Mark Ruffalo, nearly steals the movie. His stutter steps toward emotional maturity are compelling and moving to watch.

But this movie belongs to Kenneth and Aubrey. Their story is a reminder that falling in love with someone means listening to, sharing, and believing in those intimate fictions we tell ourselves about our lives in order to make it through the night. Moving backwards in time like that is just as complicated and dangerous as the machine Kenneth claims to have constructed and used once before. And, as Safety Not Guaranteed spectacularly affirms, those "fictions" are often the most authentic, most real, truths about life and how it's not just survived but lived. As Kenneth concludes, going it alone looks like freedom, but having a partner in a world that is capricious and cruel is better than safety--it's liberating.

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