Aubrey Plaza plays a deadpan intern for a magazine hired alongside young Karan Soni to join womanising journo Jake Johnson to investigate a bizarre newspaper ad requesting a companion for time travel (ending with ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’). Travelling to Washington they track the source of the ad down to a particular post office box and stake the place out. Eventually Mark Duplass turns up, a slightly savant-ish seeming, local supermarket employee who indeed claims to have a device for time travel. After Johnson makes an unsuccessful attempt to interview the extremely cagey Duplass, he decides a little feminine persuasion is needed and gets Plaza to approach him instead. It doesn’t go exactly flawlessly, but after helping him procure (i.e. steal) some lasers, she leaves enough of a positive impression on him that Duplass entrusts Plaza with being his companion on their mission. Of course, Duplass knows nothing about the article Johnson hopes to write nor Plaza’s complicity in it. The funny thing is, after a while, Plaza is questioning her feelings for Duplass, who doesn’t really seem all that much more of a dorky misfit than she is, and they even seem to share similar tragedies in life. Hell, she might even be buying into the whole time travel lunacy. But is there a more sinister/worrying side to Duplass? Is he really just a harmless eccentric? A couple of feds tailing him seem to think he’s enough of a concern.
Meanwhile, Johnson is embarking on a personal mission of sorts, tracking down the ‘one that got away’, an old girlfriend (Jenica Bergere) who lives close by. Mary Lynn Rajskub plays the magazine editor, whilst Kristen Bell plays an important person from Duplass’ past.
This 2012 film from director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly (both making their debut film) does the seeming impossible. Unlike films such as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or “The Time Traveller’s Wife”, this film blends romantic comedy with the concept of time travel just about perfectly. In fact, for 99% of the film’s length, it’s completely up in the air as to whether the character played by Mark Duplass (whose “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” was much ado about nothing) is genuinely capable of time travel or just a delusional weirdo loner. It’s very cleverly done, and even the side-story involving Johnson doesn’t feel completely extraneous, nor does it eat up too much of the running time. In fact, it ties into one of the themes of the whole film, as Johnson wants to revisit a former love (even though her Facebook profile pic shows her to be a bit on the ‘heavy’ side for the sensitive, New Age Johnson) and Duplass’ reason for time travel is to correct a past issue involving a former love of his own. Johnson also deserves credit for making his character palatable. After all, this is a guy who passes off the work onto two interns so he can track down the girl who years ago gave him the best head ever. Amazingly, you don’t hate him, probably because you know he’ll mature somewhat by the end of the film.
The ending is simply perfect (in my view anyway), and the preceding 80 minutes or so are also tremendously enjoyable, quirky, likeable, and funny. Aubrey Plaza in particular is a standout among the cast, though I even liked Kristen Bell for a change (probably partly because she’s only featured in a cameo role). But Plaza is definitely key, she has a line in deadpan sarcasm and snark without getting to “Juno”-levels of skin-crawling irritation.
Inspired by a real-life Classifieds ad from the late 90s (well, a fake ad published by a writer looking to fill space, but still, you know what I mean), this film won’t be for everyone, but it really won me over. The tone is spot-on, mixing some rather heavy themes, laughs, and science-fiction themes (though the film is not really a science-fiction film at all) without being messy or tonally inconsistent. Look out for this one if you haven’t already seen it, I think it might become a cult favourite. It’s the kind of film that when it ends, you almost feel like saying ‘Thank You’.