Year Released: 2012
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Starring : Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake M. Johnson
(R, 85 min.)
“There is only one success—to spend your life in your own way.” Christopher Morley
Don’t be fooled by the thin tissue of cynicism and vulgarity that wraps this 2012 movie package. Inside it’s an undiscovered gem.
Everything begins with this classified ad:
WANTED: Someone 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. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
The three reporters fleshing out the details of this human-interest story are about as bizarre as the ad itself. Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), the lead reporter, is an ode to crass immaturity. Darius (Aubrey Plaza), one intern he co-opts for the story is one deadpan, depressed cookie, and Arnau (Karan Soni) the other intern, is the walking embodiment of the socially inept Indian scholar.
That’s before we meet Kenneth, the grocery clerk looking for the time travel companion. He’s a little sensitive about his prosthetic ear, and his backwoods house looks like the Bates Hotel gone to seed.
And since we’ve brought Hitchcock into the picture, we might as well talk about the whole time travel spiel as a MacGuffin, Hitchcock’s phrase for a plot device, a gimmick, or a wild card that defines the characters’ plight. And like Hitchcock, Director Colin Trevorrow instills such sympathy for his characters that the MacGuffin ultimately becomes more or less irrelevant.
Which makes this low budget Sundance award winner the polar opposite of the lavish Prometheus, where the plot device runs the show, riding roughshod over the humans on board.
Safety Not Guaranteed really uses time travel as a metaphor for regret. Ultimately all the characters want to go back in time to a place of shelter and safety, when love and innocence still reigned. To that small shaft of sunshine that lit up their lives until the world came crashing down.
In fact, the small, almost honky tonk seaside town of Ocean View becomes a kind of time travel itself. It’s a place where womenfolk still bake pies and raise chickens in their yards, at least one of them. Even the awkward “military training” Kenneth has Darius complete as preparation to be his time travel companion—running through the woods and doing slow motion rollovers, stakeouts of the hidden scientific laboratory, a rusting truck with its metal box for secret messages as a rendezvous point, are a return to childhood games. To dreams of heroism unmarred by an awkward reality. Even the dour Darius begins to bloom here.
And unlike the highly touted Little Miss Sunshine produced by the same bunch, this little film overcomes its nihilism instead of drowning in it.
Au Contraire, mon ami. Safety Not Guaranteed has heart, lots of it. Of the sky’s the limit variety. Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland kind of heart, although it wears its sentiment like vintage clothes picked up at the resale shop with a shy self-awareness that this is certainly not the current fashion, but one that suits them just fine.
I think you’ll feel the same.
It seems the magazine reporter, Jeff, has more on his mind than a story about some kook advertising for a time-travel companion when he picks his little crew of interns to travel to Ocean View. An old flame still lives there and he’s hoping to rekindle the sparks.
Of course, Jeff being Jeff, there’s not too much talk of a lost love. Instead he focuses on her blond beauty and skillful passion. Yes, for Mr. Superficial it’s all about the looks and sex.
When he finds his beautiful blond has turned into a redhead and that she looks older and has put on a little weight, Jeff is ready to cancel their meeting. Until Darius, with her caustic wit, reminds him that, ”Yes, she’s old, just as old as you are,” reminding Jeff, the audience, and maybe a few of Hollywood’s aging Lothario’s of that misogynist hypocrisy.
But what really seals the deal is the pies. Jeff’s old flame can bake. For their first meeting she makes not one, but four pies—peach, apple, blueberry and rhubarb.
It’s that last one that captivates me. Nothing says traveling back in time like a Rhubarb Pie. I remember the leafy green stalks that my neighbor grew when I was little, and being the kind that loved sour things, I would eat the purple-white stems with abandoned delight. As with cherries and apples, the tartest fruit makes the best pies.
Just in time for an old fashioned Fourth of July celebration--as American as Rhubarb Pie.
Sweet and Tangy Rhubarb Pie
- 4 cups chopped rhubarb
- 1 1/3 cups white sugar
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).
Combine sugar and flour. Sprinkle 1/4 of it over pastry in pie plate. Heap rhubarb over this mixture. Sprinkle with remaining sugar and flour. Dot with small pieces of butter. Cover with top crust.
Place pie on lowest rack in oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), and continue baking for 40 to 45 minutes. Serve warm or cold.