Ultimately, The Dark Knight Rises is Christopher Nolan's clearest statement to date about the burden of exceptionalism in a society full of ordinary people. Yet the most interesting thing about Nolan's version of the Batman story has to be ...
Wait, what's that? Is it true that there are other movies in theaters besides The Dark Knight Rises? And is it true that a comparatively slim and trim movie like Colin Trevorrow's Safety Not Guaranteed might in fact be just as worthy of study and contemplation? Because there are, and it is.
Safety Not Guaranteed separates itself from the summer blockbusters by relying on actors instead of explosions as its main source of strength, meaning, and wonder. It is also constructed as an unlikely star vehicle for Aubrey Plaza, whose striking beauty and impregnable cynicism have helped her hijack movies as distinctive as Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World and Damsels in Distress. It's tough to imagine a film industry where the funny, aloof, and delicate Plaza becomes a highly sought-after lead actress, but to its credit, the movie pretends as though this kind of talent showcase were natural, right, and good.
Plaza plays Darius, a lonely, jaded twentysomething intern at Seattle magazine. Darius and her fellow intern/social outcast Arnau (Karan Soni — funny, prudish, confused) are soon pressed into service by smug journalist Jeff (Jake M. Johnson — funny, tender, anguished), who takes them to Ocean View, Washington, where he's investigating an unusual personal ad that's been running in the local paper. Once Jeff reveals his real reasons for revisiting Ocean View, Darius becomes the lead reporter on the story, which may or may not involve government surveillance and time travel.
Jeff posits that a woman's beauty is in her eyes, but who could withstand Darius' withering gaze? Could it be Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the grocery-store clerk who's also the author of the time-travel ad Jeff, Darius, and Arnau have been sent to debunk? Completing a quartet of lovely performances, Duplass plays against type. Kenneth initially behaves like a crackpot who's lost touch with much of the world. Although the montage of his "mission"-related training sessions with Darius look ridiculous, she is won over by his uncompromising individuality and nonconformity. She starts to look at him as a vulnerable human being, and when she does that, her eyes soften and lose their dismissive power. Somewhat dangerously for her line of work, she starts to see her subject in a more sympathetic light.
The film's other carefully worked-out motifs (about, among other things, imaginary backstories, high school, and Star Wars) bring up similar notions about vulnerability and hurt. Kenneth starts to have a point. What better method than time-travel to correct previous cruelties and ease the pain of past slights?
For all its serious subtexts, Safety Not Guaranteed resembles a more upbeat, less tricky version of Sound of My Voice, another unusual indie about skepticism and sci-fi that opened in Memphis two months ago. The final scenes of Safety Not Guaranteed may be similarly infuriating, but they work very well as the sanctification of an improbable romance.
Safety Not Guaranteed
Opening Friday, August 3rd