Sundance Film Festival

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED – Traveling through time with Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza

The September/October 1997 issue of Backwoods Home Magazine featured a curious classified ad. It read:

“WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 322, Oakview, CA 93022. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”

Thirteen years later, BHM Senior Editor John Silveira revealed the ad was indeed a joke, one he made under deadline to fill space in an undersold classified section. But by that point, the ad had become the stuff of Internet legend, sparking copycats, memes, and thousands of letters to Silveira’s anonymous P.O. Box. Some of the writers were skeptical, others were curious, a few were desperate (apparently death row inmates have a lot to go back in time and fix). But all of them were disappointed when the anonymous man who placed the ad didn’t write back — because he didn’t exist.

But what if he did? What if the ad wasn’t a hoax? What if a real kook placed an ad in Backwoods Home Magazine looking for a time travel wingman? That’s the clever premise of the Sundance selection SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED from director Colin Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly. In the film, a magazine sends a team of investigators — each with their own reason to want to go back in time — to find the man who placed the “safety not guaranteed” ad and find out whether he’s a certified genius or an authentic wacko. That sounds like the subject of existential drama or maybe literate sci-fi, but the Sundance film guide calls SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED a “madcap romantic comedy.” That suggest an unusual mix of ideas and tones; in Sundance alumni algebra terms, something like (PRIMER x ANOTHER EARTH) / LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.

Trevorrow and Connolly, who met as interns on Saturday Night Live, have assembled an impressive cast for this U.S Dramatic Competition film. It includes Jeff Garlin, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jake Johnson, Kristen Bell, Aubrey Plaza, and Mark Duplass as Kenneth, the mysterious man looking for BYOW (“bring your own weapons”) time travelers.

If SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is even half as interesting as it sounds, it should be worth traveling for; if not through time, then at least to the Library Center Theatre where it premieres on Sunday, January 22nd (then again, the film’s already sold out, so you might need to travel by DeLorean if you want to get a seat). At the very least it should spark some good conversations — like, for example, what you’d do if you could get your hands on a time machine. As a dual sports-and-movie lover, I know my first destination. I’d steal a page from BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II and travel back to Queens, New York on the evening of Saturday, October 25, 1986 to watch Game 6 of the World Series — and, of course, to place one hummer of a bet on the New York Mets. Here’s Colin Trevorrow talking about the film with Sundance’s Meet the Artists:

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED premieres on Sunday, January 22nd at 5:30 PM at the Library Center Theatre. For full festival screening dates, go to Sundance.org.