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Film: Safe Spaces
Genre: Feature Narrative
Tribeca Premiere: World
Director: Daniel Schechter
Cast: Justin Long, Kate Berlant, Lynn Cohen, Michael Godere, Richard Schiff, Becky Ann Baker, Fran Drescher
Synopsis: The divisions in adjunct professor Josh’s (Justin Long) professional and personal lives are taking a toll. He’s been known to bumble his way into trouble, like when his romance with his young nieces’ nanny led to her firing. Now his college students are forming warring factions after a triggering incident in his classroom, and administrators are growing alarmed over Josh’s uncertain response. His family is also chaotic: loving but splintered in the face of his beloved grandmother’s (Lynn Cohen) illness. His mother (Fran Drescher) sorts logistics while struggling to face the imminent loss of her mother. His father (Richard Schiff) is supportive but distant, trying to balance his adult children with his new wife and young son. Josh’s aunt just skipped town, and his sister (Kate Berlant) might need to lay off the pills. Everyone convenes at the hospital, trying to give and find support in the face of uncertainty.
Josh begins to listen in earnest and think beyond himself as he confronts these divides. Tribeca alum Daniel Schechter’s (Supporting Characters, Life of Crime) good-natured New York City comedy explores how people face the modern crises in their lives—both natural and self-inflicted.
FILM RATING (out of 5)
PRODUCTION DESIGN ⭐⭐⭐
From the look of the cast—including Justin Long, Kate Berlant, Lynn Cohen, Michael Godere, Richard Schiff, Becky Ann Baker, and Fran Drescher—Safe Spaces seems like the type of movie that would be akin to Accepted. Humorous and light-hearted, but with a great message in the background. While its humor was more understated and clever, Director, Daniel Schechter definitely hit the mark on both witty and moving.
The film takes place in New York City, following Justin Long’s character, Josh through his chaotic personal and professional life, introducing us to his character’s stubborn and often unintentionally selfish nature through those close to him, whether it be his girlfriend, his family or even the professors and students with whom he works.
The movie is all about ‘safe spaces’, and yet somehow makes you feel a fair level of discomfort throughout most of the movie. It opens with a fairly awkward scene between Josh and his writing class ,and that energy is carried throughout the film.
In what I’m sure is a stroke of irony, a movie about feeling safe makes you simultaneously want to shake the characters and hug them at the same time. As humans, some of the decisions they make—many, in fact—are sparked more by emotion rather than logic, and often cause miscommunication or lack of communication entirely. Yet, you find yourself rooting for these flawed characters simply because of their human nature.
The ending is not entirely tidy, but it serves the purpose of explaining that safety can be found in unlikely places, in this case, outside of a dying grandmother’s hospital room, surrounded by loved ones. And while this might seem cliche’, the storyline presents in a way that is anything but.
At certain points, the unnerving nature of the narrative does get a bit annoying, but it is a testament to the powerful way the cast and director worked together to create moments that mimic real life. When Josh and his mother argue over something tiny and she storms out instead of talking with him; or when his sister embarrasses him in public, you get a taste of real human moments, the ones that are too often resolved in movies unlike they are in real life—but not here.
While a bit lengthy for a “non-Marvel movie”, Safe Spaces really touches on what it means to be human, striving to feel safe and loved and comforted, while displaying how life is never always that easy.
Must Watch? YES, if you’re a fan of moving dramatic narratives with some clever wit and charm that also includes a bit of life lesson.