Safety Not Guaranteed

Year of Release: 2012     Directed by Colin Trevorrow.  Starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake M. Johnson, Karan Soni, and Mary Lynn Rajskub.

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) has never really fit into the norms and molds of society.  When she says she attended parties in college, she means she had acquaintances who would make out in her presence.  As a child she would play by herself or with a turtle she found in the garden rather than play with her siblings or friends.   Her social awkwardness extends into a job interview, preventing her from getting hired.  At an internship at a magazine, one of her coworkers jokingly refers to her as a lesbian due to her social ineptitude.

Nonetheless, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) selects Darius and a nerdy Indian intern, Arnau, (Karan Soni) to accompany him as he attempts to write a story based on an unusual classified ad he saw in the newspaper.  The selection of both of them is reasonable because both of them are somewhat weird, and the ad itself is incredibly odd.  The ad also contains something that appeals to both Darius’ and Arnau’s natures.  She sees an opportunity to ease some past regret, and the scientific aspect of the project appeals to him.

Kenneth, (Mark Duplass) the man who wrote the ad, is even stranger than Darius.  He whole heartedly believes in his endeavor and goes to incredulous lengths to succeed.  While his success may seem impossible, Kenneth’s endurance along with Darius’ support make his project seem believable at times.

If for some reason, you skipped reading reviews or even missed seeing the poster for the movie, and do not know the content of Kenneth’s ad, I think it would be best to leave it that way.  The content of the ad is revealed within the first ten minutes of the film, but it was all the more surprising and entertaining not knowing what it was.  The film is very creative in the ways it handles the ad and other characters’ reactions to it.  This creativity was amusing and endearing, especially when watching it unfold with no prior knowledge.

Why does Kenneth put so much energy into his project?  Or more importantly, as he asks all potential partners, what does he want to accomplish with this undertaking?  Kenneth’s intentions are appropriately kept hidden until the very last minutes of the film.  When revealed, his intentions do tie the entire film together.

All the actions of the characters relate to one central theme of solitude versus companionship.  Jeff was not really fascinated in a potential magazine story about a peculiar newspaper add.  He wanted to go to the location of the ad in order to reconnect with an old friend.  Along the way he insists on setting Arnau up with his first encounter.  Darius wishes to heal the guilt she suffers from the death of loved one.  And Kenneth wants to restore bonds in his life that have been destroyed.

All of the characters are believable; none of them are stereotypes or poorly developed.  Jeff is a forty-year-old who still wishes he was twenty and could party endlessly with alcohol and drugs.  However, he has some profound moments when he realizes the shallowness of his current lifestyle.  Arnau is a nerdy Asian math-whiz, who only took an internship at a magazine because it “looks good on a resume.”  He wants to follow every rule on this assignment, but he also has moments of nervous insecurity.  Darius is confident yet lonely as an oddball intern.  Several scenes are humorous, because they are incredibly plausible, such as Darius’ exchange with her father about her social life at the beginning of the film.

Plaza and Duplass have great chemistry.  Initially they are awkward around one another, but that gives way as the work together and the seemingly absurd project becomes clearer.  Other relationships are equally realistic.

The only major fault in the film is that ending is slightly rushed and not fully explained.  Whether or not Kenneth succeeded in his project suddenly takes backseat to another more important goal.  The film possibly takes a turn into another genre that is completely out of place as well.

Neither safety nor success were guaranteed for Kenneth’s project.  There were many risks involved, all of which could have led to failure.  In the same manner, safety was not guaranteed in the search for relationships by all the characters.  With regard to emotions, the film suggests that human beings are as complex and uncertain as Kenneth’s mission.  Relationships require just as much work and energy as Kenneth and Darius put into preparing for the project.  In any stage of a close relationship, safety is not guaranteed.

Content Advisory: Frank sexual dialogue, an implied encounter, some heavy drinking and smoking, and occasional obscenities.                        MPAA rating: R

Suggested Audience: Adults.

Personal Recommendation: B+

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