DIRECTED BY COLIN TREVORROWSTARRING: AUBREY PLAZA, MARK DUPLASS, JAKE JOHNSON, KARAN SONI, JENICA BERGERE with MARY LYNN RAJSKUB and KRISTEN BELL
If I have a problem with mumblecore, I’d have a problem with every film that is a part and representative of it. Accepting such a film, then, becomes a problem. It’s the bane of genre-filmmaking, in essence. The genre needs sanction for the film to gain appreciation. A lot of gems are left out in their compulsiveness to stick to stereotype. There have been the rarer ones who have chosen to defy. It really is a matter of choice.
‘Safety not Guaranteed’ – winner of the Screenplay prize at Sundance last year, which was the reason I chose to watch it – is a film that’s a product of its genre, out and out. It’s a flag bearer of a nation I’m at war with. The whole, typical indie stereotype, you know? A first-person narration with a musical score by some folksy, obscure band, shot on steadicam in the manner of artificially flavoured reality. Every character in the film is heavily made up, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) speaks like Diablo Cody wrote her lines, in a teen movie that has crossed borders and gone deeper, rendering depth useless.
All along, I had to bear in mind that the film had won writing honours. Not filmmaking honours, writing honours. The dialogues engage with you as much as the characters engage with each other, and – this can be said for sure about the film – they do engage with each other. In that, I mean that none of them recite their lines like it’s an assignment, with Arnav (Karan Soni) being a possible exception. He’s there to fit the one-Indian-per-movie quota, or so you think for most of the time. But there are a few precious moments when you give in to his presence. He isn’t merely a plot device, even though he could’ve been an interesting use of one, if only.
There’s nothing too incredible about the film. It’s perhaps the subtlest handling of time-travel ever – which stresses on everything but the actual act. What makes these people want to go back? Which time do they want to go back to? What do they want to do over there? It’s not frivolous science-fiction that plays with the odds. It’s a human endeavour – the coming out of characters who struggle to express themselves. To learn a little more about Kenneth, Darius must earn his trust. And vice-versa. He’s looking for a partner to time-travel with. Why does he want one? You would answer his question. He does too, when he really needn’t.
Mark Duplass (director of such films as Cyrus and Jeff, who lives at Home with brother Jay) is Kenneth. He’s an extension of Ryan Gosling’s Lars Lindstrom in ‘Lars and the Real Girl.’ He wants to time-travel. He knows he can. He’s suspect and a news-item, and Aubrey Plaza’s deadpan Darius is the investigative journalist who smiles so rare it’s flattering, almost seductive, when she does. Again, commendable, if not for the fact that it’s a stereotype, lately – thanks to the likes of Greta Gerwig.
Darius needs to play along to know more about Kenneth. She plays along to cure him, perhaps – in the lines of Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) in ‘Lars and the Real Girl.’ And there’s also the tiniest (obvious) possibility that she isn’t playing along and actually believes in his fantasy. Like Jesse and Leslie in ‘Bridge to Terebithia.’ What’s good about the film is that it enunciates neither of these possibilities as stronger than the other, which gives the viewer as open-minded an experience as you would want it to.
Neat bundles of bravado, humour and vulnerability, we have two of those vying for pride of position. One, obviously, is Duplass, at the centre of action. The other is Jake Johnson, who plays Jeff Schwensen, the reporter/bum who takes a couple of interns to Washington so he can track an old love of his. She’s called Liz (Jenica Bergere) and he talks to her on Facebook. He has pictures of her from when she was 18, when she was skinny and blonde; attractive, in short. Now, she’s 38, grown-up and past a lot of shit. His coming to terms with Liz is a sort of coming to terms with himself and the fact that he is, in fact, aging. In this process, his character shows as much of a transition as that of Kenneth, when he warms up to the woman.
But then he’s reminded that it’s always going to be cold in Washington. He embraces it. He has no choice but that.
As seems to be an ongoing theme, ‘Safety not Guaranteed’ is a film about trust, almost obviously. It’s a struggle against insecurity that believes in a human victory. It’s as watertight as ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ in its science-fiction element, in the fact that it doesn’t speak much about it. If I could time-travel, I’d stop mumblecore from happening. I would break the indie tradition. And then, a film like ‘Goodbye Solo’ would have happened, which is perhaps mankind’s most sincere attempt at exploring life, loss and death. And that would tell me that my mission has been successful, even before I had gone.