This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Carl Hudson’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I believe there's no point in even trying to talk about this film without spoiling the ending so I'm not going to try, especially since my (admittedly small) problems with the film has to do directly with that part of it.
First off, this is a great film with a fantastic cast. Audrey Plaza once again plays the negative, ironic, eye-rolling girl, but here she's given more backstory and, as the minutes roll by, gets to show more sincerity and happiness than I've ever seen her do. That girl really knows how to act.
Jake Johnson delivers an essentially watered-down Nick from New Girl, and he does it fantastically.
All the other actors range from "decent" to "good", but the real show-stealer is Mark Duplass as the "is-he/is-he not" time-traveller. His ability to seem a little strange, like he may have mental issues but would for instance never hurt someone, carries the entire film along with Audrey Plaza's eye-rolling honesty and eventual sweetness.
I find, with these "is-he/is-he-not"-movies (Fright Night, Rear Window, etc.) that if you bet on "he is", you're usually right. "Safety Not Guaranteed" is no different, but the fact that it isn't revealed until the very end of the movie is. And there's a big reason for it; it doesn't matter.
Which is my problem with the film. It's a fantastically emotional piece, focusing on its characters and their goals and feelings. Plaza's character has never gotten over her mothers death, staying a shut-in who's never had something even close to love with another person than her father. She's terrified of being disappointed, not to mention losing another important person in her life.
Meanwhile, Johnson's reason for taking the job of this article is to hook up with a girl of his past. He dismisses it immediately after seeing that she's become fat, not to mention old like him, but with a little help from Karan Soni's character (whom Johnson helps selflessly with his problems later), he discovers there's more to women than looks and sex.
Even the would-be time-traveller has his arc, bullied because of a weird ear and an old girlfriend who he died (or so he says). The film is funny, romantic and deeply rooted in its characters.
Which was why I was incredibly disappointed when they revealed the fully functional time-machine. That felt like the wrong ending. Sure, it was fun, but I'd much rather have a quiet conclusion where Plaza and Duplass telling themselves they didn't need to go back; they had each other, they'd gotten over their old problems and they were ready to begin anew. We could've even seen the time-machine, but never known if it would work since the characters didn't need to go back anymore; having worked through they're problems, they were now free to move forward.
Though the time-machine was heavily hinted to be the case, especially with Duplass' girlfriend being alive when he told Plaza she was dead (remember, he'd done this once before) as well as a couple of other things, the film didn't really need it.
All in all, this was a good film that could have been better if it hadn't opted for the sci-fi-rote but instead had delivered an ending based on feelings and issues, as the rest of the movie had.