As Sundance London drew to a close, this reviewer settled in to watch a film that seemed to encapsulate everything good about Robert Redford’s independent Film Festival; Safety Not Guaranteed is one of those tidy little indie films that Sundance loves to love.
The film takes, as its jumping off point, the idea that a lone individual, if he’s unhampered by logic and is driven by good intentions and love, can actually do the impossible. In that respect the film is very much an allegory for independent filmmaking and is, therefore, the perfect way to round off Sundance London.
Safety Not Guaranteed begins in a Seattle magazine office where a cynical reporter Jeff (Jake M Johnson, who you may recognise from Channel 4’s New Girl) pitches the idea that he (and two interns) investigate a small, classified ad in the personal section of a small town newspaper. The ad reads, “Wanted someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I’ve only done this once before.”
Who wouldn’t want to find out more?
Had this been a mainstream film we would have been served up a reheated take on Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) or a re-run of Back to the Future (1985). However this is not mainstream; this is Sundance.
Instead we get a painfully charming film where the journalist and two interns; jaded beyond her years Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and the 21 year old virgin Arnau (Karan Soni) decide to go right ahead and investigate the story. They find not an insane, loner, survivalist loon but the very sweet (and just possibly insane) loner Kenneth played by Mark Duplass, who also co-produced the film.
Riding shotgun to the time travel / righting past wrongs plot we also get to tackle issues of lost love, old flames, seizing days and a very gentle love story. Without giving too much away, Safety Not Guaranteed’s director Colin Trevorrow (in the Q&A after the screening) said that the film was four different characters time travelling missions. There was the very obvious attempt by two characters to literally travel back in time to fix something while Jeff was keen to rediscover a relationship with his first love and later force Arnau to live in the now. As he said, “you will never be 21 again”. He could quite easily have said to the film’s crew, “You will never be this independent again.”
Safety Not Guaranteed is a great, funny and touching film: a great way to round off the Sundance London.
Let’s leave the last word to the President and Founder of the Sundance Institute, the Sundance Kid himself, Robert Redford, speaking at the close of the gala, “These four days have seen features, documentaries and live events with insightful filmmakers and musicians, as well as passionate audiences in attendance.” I couldn’t agree more.