It took me awhile to warm up to Aubrey Plaza on Parks and Recreation. In the beginning of the show, as the not-quite-Office-spin-off was finding its own voice, Plaza’s character April was stuck on one note. She was the angsty, dead-pan twenty-something—and while Plaza had no problem landing hilarious punchlines, that’s really all the show let her do. Over time, the Parks writers wised up, expanding April’s role and exploiting Plaza’s existing range. Since then, the actress has been a continued standout on the show.
That existing recognition of Plaza’s talents is what makes the Sundance competition film Safety Not Guaranteed so frustrating. Co-starring Sundance darling Mark Duplass, The New Girl‘s Jake M. Johnson and 24‘s Mary Lynn Rajskub, the movie follows Darius (Plaza), an aimless intern at a Seattle magazine who finds herself recruited for an investigative piece on a man claiming to possess the ability to time-travel. With her writer boss (Johnson) off gallivanting with a former flame, Darius introduces herself to Kenneth, the prospective time jumper, and a relationship quickly develops.
Safety Not Guaranteed has a lot of heart and some fun ideas riffing on its sci-fi premise (the story is based on an actual ad placed in a newspaper a few years ago), but instead of creating a cohesive character arc or intriguing narrative, the movie opts for the safest execution. The movie starts with Plaza utilizing her known comedic style—which feels more like a female Napoleon Dynamite than ever before. Plaza and Duplass have great chemistry, thanks to both actors’ natural charisma, but their sweet moments are few and far between (Jake Johnson’s side plot steals a significant amount of screentime). Plaza has the ability to do a lot on screen, it’s just a matter of letting her. Safety Not Guaranteed sticks to what we know.
Check out the video below to see more discussion on Safety Not Guaranteed with my cohort Katey Rich of CinemaBlend, as well as thoughts on the tense, crime drama Compliance and Room 237, a dissection of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining by conspiracy theorists.