On Sunday I finally attended my first ‘proper’ film festival – Sundance London. At least, I think I attended a film festival. My experience tells a slightly different story, in that it feels like I travelled 3 hours to London to visit a quiet Cineworld cinema. I suppose these crazy festival types don’t tend to show their face at screenings at midday on a Sunday.
What did mark this as being above the standard cinema experience was that not only were we treated to a film that is still months away from general release in this country, but we also got a very relaxed Q&A session with the director afterwards. Drinks were still extortionate though.
The film I trekked half-way across the country to see was Safety Not Guaranteed – the feature debut from director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly that received rave reviews at the ‘proper’ Sundance in January that led to it being included on the programme for this Sundance-taster taking place in the UK for the first time.
The film takes its inspiration from a real-life classified advert from someone seeking a companion for space travel. This completely fictional film follows a group of 3 staff at a magazine who head out on assignment to track down the person who placed the ad and interview him.
I wouldn’t want to talk too much about the plot of the film – not because I might spoil it, but because that would be to rob the viewer of the joy of letting it unfold before their eyes.
What I would like to talk about though are the central performances for Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass. Trevorrow explained in the Q&A that the role of Darius (an intern at the magazine who tags along on assignment, and becomes the honey-trap that cynical journalist Jeff uses to get the scoop on our ‘time traveller’) was written for Aubrey Plaza – and anyone who has seen her performances in the vastly underrated Parks and Recreation, or her small role in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, will instantly agree that the writer achieved his aim. Plaza’s sarcastic, yet vulnerable performance is the heart of this film. You completely believe her desire to want to disappear from the present.
Opposite her Mark Duplass plays a blinder as Kenneth – the loner who is wholly convinced of his ability to travel through time. He stays just the right side of being outright weird, and carries the look of a man who knows he is right, and if the world doesn’t believe him then that’s their problem. There are a number of touching scenes between the two of them, including a campfire scene that plays its cards so honestly and earnestly you wonder how they got away with it. But this films selling point is that is has truckloads of charm, and if you can buy into the universe then you will be utterly smitten.
Trevorrow has said that this film is heavily influenced by the 1980s Amblin films. In fact, the version shown at Sundance London had a new ending that the director said came from thinking about how he would have wanted this film to end if he was a kid watching it in the eighties.
In a summer dominated by multi-multi-million blockbusters, it is so refreshing to see a film made for less than $1million that can give us a modern science-fiction story with this much heart.
Please, please try and catch this when it inevitably plays in your local arts cinema for a few nights later this year.
James will be reviewing Safety Not Guaranteed on this weeks Failed Critic Podcast