In 1997, magazine writer John Silveira worked for Home Magazine when his editor, Dave Duffy, asked him to tell a joke. Apparently the magazine lacked material for the classified ad sections, and Duffy was cold enough to let the writers slip into a few funny ones.
“John, make me some jokes,” Silveira remembers telling him Duffy in 2010. So Silveira did as she was told and offered a gag on a time machine. He recycled the first lines of an unfinished novel, which read:
“WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. PO Box 322 Oakview, CA 93022. You will be paid upon our return. Must bring your own weapons. Security not assured. I’ve only done this once before.
It was a joke. In the early days of the internet, this ad managed to go viral before it was a real term. It was read aloud by Jay Leno on TV and discussed on NPR Talking about car. Years later, screenwriter Derek Connolly stumbled upon the ad, believing it to be real – or, rather, sincere. “There was something really sad about all of this,” said Connolly, who was inspired. “And if he really laments something from his past that he wants to go back and fix it.” This is what caught my attention.
After contacting Silveira, Connolly wrote the screenplay for what would become the 2012 indie sci-fi hit. Security not assured, which leaves Netflix on August 14 and deserves your time before then.
Remembered like the movie that put Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow on the map, Security not assured Also happens to be a perfect example of a dying breed: that of high-concept genre films with two sensibilities.
In Security not assured, Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) is a depressed young man in his early twenties who works as an unpaid intern at a magazine for Seattle Magazine. Like many young adults in the years after the financial crisis, Darius is stuck at home and struggling to find direction.
During a pitch meeting, scummy reporter Jeff (Jake Johnson, engaging in a more competent variation of his Nick Miller from New girl) tells the story of a funny little ad – one that reads like the one from 1997 – in Ocean View, Washington, a podunk resort town. The pitch being approved, Jeff recruits Darius and Arnau (Karan Soni), a studious and virginal science student, to accompany him. Jeff has ulterior motives, but the story is still moving forward, with Darius posing as an interested party in the author of the ad, supermarket employee Kenneth Calloway (independent royalty Mark Duplass).
What unfolds then seems like a rudimentary romantic comedy, if not for the time travel stuff and eccentricities of Chef Plaza and Duplass, each posing as true strangers to Hollywood’s plastic molds. Filmed during the passage of Plaza on Parks and recreation, Darius is less morbid than April Ludgate, although I imagine the two would get along well discussing the Bloc Party albums. Kenneth of Duplass, meanwhile, looks like a John Krasinski dump truck, with disheveled brown locks and a tight denim jacket that rides around in a battered yellow Datsun.
Seen through the eyes of someone other than Darius, Kenneth is a loser. When his former crush (Kristen Bell, in a surprise supporting role) pops up to describe him as “one of those guys you know sort of has a crush on you but he’s really nice and so you’re really nice back” and “the type of guy you couldn’t easily fit into your life,” either you feel sorry for Kenneth or you agree with her (or both).
Darius, who does not fit anywhere, falls in love with Kenneth; it’s no wonder she’s head over heels mad when Kenneth sings an original song about stepping out of life’s normal beats. Surprisingly, the tension of trying to get a story out of Kenneth is never as bad as you probably think. As the two develop a relationship around Kenneth’s “training” program (including a break-in at a science lab that always elicits gutsy laughter), it’s never that Darius lies to Kenneth, but rather how Kenneth could. lying to Darius, who creates the biggest sizzle of stakes in history.
A subplot for the film lies in Jeff, a radiant source of cologne, alcohol and Alka Seltzer, who initially wants only one thing: to sleep with an old hottie, Liz (Jenica Bergère) from his high school years. At first glance, Jeff loses interest when he learns that Liz is not the preserved 18-year-old mermaid still alive in his memory. But encouraged by Arnau – who is later encouraged by Jeff to seize the day in his own way – Jeff rekindles an adventure, only to realize the size of the void in his own life.
Security not assured ends in victories for many of his characters, including the shy Arnau, but Jeff ends on a depressing one. Tears roll down his cheeks as he drives drunk on a go-kart, a lit cigarette stuck between his fingers. Even when Darius and Kenneth (minor spoilers) manage to escape and Jeff throws his fist in joy, Jeff still has nothing to do. Unlike the other characters around him, he’s lost his chance. He has nothing. The sun has set.
When Security not assured premiered in 2012, critics loved it, although many commented on the two elements of the film, which seem to be ripped off in the mid-2000s. In her review, reviewer Meredith Borders noted that the film can feel dated. “We were all perfectly free to Garden condition phenomenon, ”she wrote,“ only for director Colin Trevorrow to bring us back. ”
They are not wrong. Security not assured has precisely that familiar flavor belonging to movies like this Garden condition, Nick & Norah’s Endless Reading List, and particularly Eternal sun of the spotless spirit, this still great photo of Michel Gondry which precedes Security not assured as the first rom-com sci-fi hybrid. When the goofy Arnau tries to tell Darius that she would look great in tight leggings the girls wear, she pushes him away, in what feels like a light blow to the Zooey Deschanels of the world. (Notice Darius later wears these leggings in the film’s climax.)
In his defense, Security wasn’t the only film to work in this vein all those years ago. 2012 also saw the release of Ruby Sparks, in which Paul Dano literally writes the girl of his dreams in life, and the following year saw About the weather, in which Domnhall Gleeson learns he is able to time travel and uses that power to romanticize Rachel McAdams. Movies of this caliber are a dying breed, however; retro style from last year Goreman psychopath remains a little-seen gem, everything original is thrown at streamers, and the pandemic box office has made it seem like only comic book movies make money these days.
What is convincing about the so-called tweeness of Security, however, is that it is the work of Trevorrow, a filmmaker who then moved from the independent world to franchise filmmaking at breakneck speed. Three years later, Trevorrow was the head of Jurassic World, and at the end of the year he was to lead Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. (In the aftermath of Trevorrow’s release, the abundance of lyrics Star wars references in Security not assured must sting.)
It would have been fascinating to see Trevorrow stretch his legs in the indie world before stepping into the stratosphere of mega-budget movies. In 2017, Trevorrow returned to non-IP filmmaking with the critical drama Henri’s book, a movie that I still haven’t seen but has been described to me in so much detail that I refuse to believe it’s a real movie. (After submitting this story, I watch it on Netflix, where it also streams. I commit now.)
Security not assured still exists as a promising start for a storyteller with a keen investment in universal human emotions, which feels real despite time travel shenanigans that may or may not take place offscreen. It’s perfect for, well, Star wars. But I often wonder what else we might get from Trevorrow if he hadn’t been so successful from the start. If only we could time travel, you know?
Security not assured is now streaming on Netflix through August 14.