“Safety Not Guaranteed”: Getting Second Chances

“Wanted: Somebody 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.” 

This actual ad someone placed in Backwoods Home Magazine in the 90’s is used as the starting point for the new indie movie Safety Not Guaranteed, a quirky story with unusual characters and a plot that’s hard to describe.

Nonetheless, in brief, magazine writer Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) takes a couple interns on a road trip to find the anonymous author of the ad and to do a story on him. When Jeff finds himself the object of scorn by time-travel devotee Kenneth (Mark Duplass), intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) gets the story, which involves expertly pretending to be just the time-travel companion Kenneth needs.

Claudia Puig, USA Today:

When Kenneth meets the group, he is instantly put off by Jeff’s glib manner. ‘What is that smile?’ Kenneth asks him. ‘You don’t know pain. You don’t know regret.’

But Darius does, and when Jeff appoints her to head the investigation, things pick up. She poses as someone responding to the ad, and her forlorn demeanor and dry wit connect with Kenneth’s eccentric personality.

Meanwhile, Jeff spends much of his time trying to reconnect with a high-school lover of 20 years ago and introducing nerdy male intern Arnau (Karan Soni) to the idea of girls.


Turan calls him “a purist, a super-serious, unending earnest eccentric. Paranoid about being followed, given to saying things like ‘the technology I’ve invented can’t be understood by the average man,’ Kenneth believes to the core of his being that time travel is possible and repeatable.”

Mary Pols, Time, observes that he may be “…an unstable man, but he and his dream of time travel provide the story’s unexpected stability. Kenneth is teaching them how to seize the moment in the present while looking for the past.”


Mary PolsTime: “From writer Derek Connolly’s narrated prologue, we know Darius is not an optimist. ‘I guess I remember being happy when I was a kid,’ she says. ‘Back when you just naturally expect good things to happen.’

Mick LaSalleSan Francisco Chronicle: Her “…sullen and sardonic personality just barely conceals a sensitive and questing nature.”


Both these characters have experienced losses, and this is partly what underlies their bonding as well as their wishes for do-overs. Together, they represent a load of complicated grief issues.

Madeleine Kruhly, The Atlantic: “…(A) good portion of the audience’s tolerance of Kenneth’s weirdness is probably due to his relationship with the more ‘real,’ albeit depressive, Darius.”

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