Having won the screenwriting award at the Sundance Festival in 2012, it’s strange that I heard no buzz related to Safety Not Guaranteed, a little indie film about a magazine’s exploration of a man claiming he can time travel. More like Primer than Hot Tub Time Machine, this one proves to be funny, poignant, thought-provoking, and clever, with a cast you’ve seen before, just not like this.
Seattle Magazine writer Jeff Schwensen (Jake Johnson, New Girl) drags two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation) and Arnau (Karan Soni), to interview a grocery store clerk, Kenneth (Mark Duplass, The League), who is running a classifieds ad seeking a partner to travel back in time with. Darius works her way into a confidence with Kenneth, while Jeff uses the time to attempt to reconnect with an old flame (Jenica Bergere). Each of the characters is seeking something, but is what they’re looking for what they will find?
The film drags at some places, but it keeps us moving forward enough that we’re intrigued. Kenneth is being followed by someone, but is it because he’s breaking into various research labs or because he knows something about a grand conspiracy? Can Darius find meaning in her relationship with Kenneth or will her duplicitous behavior ultimately undermine her own journey? Can Jeff find true love or are his expectations established on something that can’t last?
Ultimately, the film boils down to a quest for fulfillment. Too often, we seek it in things that don’t exist or can’t fulfill us, in ways that will never satisfy us. It’s like the story of the woman at the well in John 4 who meets Jesus. Jesus tells her that he can offer her water that will keep her from being thirsty ever again, living water to quench her heart’s thirst. She knows that sounds better than any offer she’s heard prior and enters into dialogue with him. The characters here know they’re “thirsty,” and attempt to enter into dialogue, but only real love, only repenting of our broken lives, will ever truly fulfill us.