Posted in Film, Writing

Watching Like a Writer: Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)


Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!


As a movie buff I get no more joy out of watching a film when it’s something I knew next to nothing about walking into the theater, but that unfolds in tremendous style and substance on the screen. When I walk into a typical summer movie, I pretty much know what to expect. But when I sit down for a movie like Safety Not Guaranteed, I have no idea what I’m in for. When I saw this film in August of 2012, all I knew about it was the general log line, and that it starred Mark Duplass, who has created some of the most intriguing independent films in the last few years.

The Duplass Brothers first came across my radar in 2009 when I saw the surprisingly scary Baghead and the painfully quirky Humpday. I loved both films and am always on the lookout for movies they’re involved with, even as only actors. Mark Duplass has turned into quite the prolific actor/writer/director. He’s not your typical leading man, but he’s very watchable and charismatic. In Safety Not Guaranteed, he plays a man who puts an ad in the classifieds that reads as follows:

Aubrey Plaza plays Darius, an intern at a Seattle magazine that sends her and two others to find the man who placed the ad and write an article about who he is and what he’s really trying to do. The film is very funny from beginning to end, but it also moves into surprisingly emotional territory, and the ending, expected and at the same time not, is hugely satisfying. It’s the kind of unpredictable indie movie that keeps surprising you, where you never really know where it’s going to go next.

But the characters are so well-defined that after awhile it becomes a joy just to spend time with them. Plaza holds her own as the movie’s heroine, and Jake Johnson and Karan Soni have their own terrific moments as her magazine comrades. Also funny in bit parts are Jeff Garlin and the forever under appreciated Mary Lynn Rajskub.

But the real star of Safety Not Guaranteed is Mark Duplass, who is fabulous as the eccentric loner who may or may not have the key to traveling back in time. He’s so endearing the film is worth watching just for his performance. Kudos go to writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow, who went on direct Jurassic World, for creating a truly unique indie comedy.

Watching Like a Writer

Safety Not Guaranteed makes me think about how to successfully integrate ideas of science fiction into realistic contemporary storytelling. Part of the joy in watching this indie comedy is in seeing how far the filmmaker will take the science fiction concepts at the heart of its story. I’ve never been interested in writing a science fiction novel, but I would love to write a contemporary novel with a science fiction element to be sure.


Think of a short story idea that is grounded, realistic, set in 2018, but then integrates some kind of science fiction element. What would the story be about?

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