Friday, July 20, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

The Duplass brothers seem to be everywhere lately, with Jeff, Who Lives At Home and Mark showing up in Your Sister's Sister, People Like Us as well as both being writer/director on the upcoming Do-Deca-Pentathlon. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see them as producers of this odd little film based on the infamous classified ad:

"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. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed."

The premise worked up around this is that three reporters, a debauched 40-year-old cynic, a virginal nerd looking for college credit, and a morose and virginal young woman, are sent to discover the story behind the ad. This actually being a pretext for the older guy, Jeff (played by Jake M. Johnson, who's a bit young for it) to revisit his high-school honey.

Which he does, while sending out the girl, Darius and boy, Arnau to stake out the PO Box and wait for the poster. Seizing the opportunity, Darius ends up spotting the guy and following him around for a bit. (Arnau is too timid to join her.)

And so...we end up with a kind of romantic-comedy. Darius (played by Aubrey Plaza) is interviewing the putative time-traveler (Mark Duplass) by way of pretending to want to join him on his journey, and she clicks with his morose, paranoid style (because she is, too, a little morose and paranoid).

This movie is done in a starkly real fashion, so you never really take the possibility seriously that Kenneth isn't just crazy—until it turns out that he is being followed by government agents, and he really does steal mysterious equipment from high-tech labs.

There is a real delicate balance here between whimsy and seriousness, and the kind of tonal shifting that we saw in the Duplass' Baghead, Cyrus and Jeff—but the Boy and I agreed that this film works better than all those.

We couldn't quite put our finger on why, exactly. It was funnier. Its view of humanity was somewhat more benign, with even Jeff becoming more humanized and likable by the end. (He has his own competing story arc, which is also a reflection on the desire to time-travel.)

It felt a little freer, a little less constrained by the kind of drabness that marks this genre of filmmaking. There is no truly malignant character. And there's a fascinating thematic interaction between time-travel and, well, creative remembering (a.k.a. lying) that raises a bunch of interesting questions at the end.

The Flower was pleased, too.

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