Justin Long, Fran Drescher, Richard Schiff
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…a tonal mess that juggles a multitude of really complex and thought-provoking ideas and asks a whole lot of a stellar cast.
It’s safe to say, there are no secrets in Daniel Schechter’s Safe Spaces. The film is an exercise in exposure and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, but the more it delves into the convolution of its own ideas, the more it tailspins into a dissipated mess.
From the impending death of a family member and how the central estranged family manages it, to the tainted professionalism of a new professor looking to fix broken ties with his students – there’s a lot going on in the 90-minute runtime. That professor in question is Josh (Justin Long), and his life is a hotbed of unfortune, as he fails to see the issue of making inappropriate statements in front of his students (which establishes the edginess of the drama to follow). He is also in a difficult time in his own life as he tries to manage his finances, the looming death of his grandma, his short-term relationship with an Italian student, and the growing divide between him and his family.
It is clear that Schechter had a lot in mind when drafting the screenplay, and it is also clear that he struggled with the selection and omission process as he seemingly crammed his whole thought process in. The result is a tonal mess that juggles a multitude of really complex and thought-provoking ideas (including misogyny, white supremacy and sexual harassment) and asks a whole lot of a stellar cast.
Supporting Justin Long are the likes of Fran Drescher (mum), Richard Schiff (dad) and Kate Berlant (sister). Each actor brings to this troubled family a unique perspective that makes for meaningful exchanges and a series of interesting back-and-forths. There is never a dull moment when these characters share the screen, and the giddish, warm feelings one feels tie back to this idea of resonance and being able to connect with those around you.
The notion of not taking life too seriously forms the crux and is the general conception of the film. Schechter advocates for the little, shared moments in life above the perpetual angst that comes with dwelling on issues that add no value to what comes next. From Josh’s tender moment of affection with Caterina (Silvia Morigi) to Josh and his siblings lounging around for the first time in a long time – it’s the small details that count.
Even then, Safe Spaces will probably be remembered for furthering the disgruntled-family-dynamics catalogue of films that seep their way onto the screen each year, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t commendable aspects – they’re just overshadowed by the surface-level treatment of thematic issues.