SAFE SPACES

★★★

EMOTIONAL FAMILY DRAMA WEIGHED DOWN BY PROBLEMATIC SUB-PLOT

JEWISH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Chris dos Santos
28th October 2019

From ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ to ‘The Hollars’, there is no shortage of family dramas talking about grief and loss. Depending on your own experiences, these films can range from pandering to heartfelt, but more often than not they're just a bunch of celebrities getting together in an indie film to show off the fact they can cry. ‘Safe Spaces’ takes this overdone plot, but adds something “interesting”.

With his grandmother dying in hospital and his sister (Kate Berlant, ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’, ‘Sorry to Bother You’) crashing at his house, teacher Josh (Justin Long, ‘Going the Distance’, ‘Dodgeball’) is already having a rough and stressful week, but after commenting on a female student's sex life in class, his job is now on the line as well.

'SAFE SPACES' TRAILER

How you frame a movie is extremely important; it tells the world how you view issues and what you think about them. The biggest problem with ‘Safe Spaces’ is the framing. Josh makes a joke about a student’s sex life - a female student - and in the film's world, this isn’t seen as something that could be a problem. When he gets in trouble from the school, his family and most of the students don’t see it as an issue. The girl who brings this up with the school board is almost made out to be a bad person, so you feel really sorry for her and the way the film is treating her. I can see what writer/director Daniel Schechter ('Life of Crime') is trying to do, but this movie is about a grieving family so doesn't need a subplot like this, and I don’t know if the "white man is the victim" is something we really need discussed in film in the current 2019 climate. Josh isn’t a bad guy - we all have moments where we say something we shouldn’t - but the narrative should have been about how he learns the error of his ways and grows up, not him and those around him defending his actions and not learning from his mistakes.

‘Safe Space’ could have been one of the definitive films about losing a family member, but because of its "interesting" subplot it, unfortunately, weighs down its stellar cast and the film’s final package to come out as an average endeavour.

And yet the most conflicting thing about ‘Safe Spaces’ outside of that one issue is the incredibly strong cast. The acting, even from Long, is really phenomenal. I wasn’t aware that Fran Drescher (TV's 'The Nanny', ‘Hotel Transylvania’, ‘The Beautician and the Beast’) was going to be in this, and she knocks it out of the park. Her mother is the one who is sick and she's so helpless; she's about to lose her best friend, and you feel all of that. I hope she branches out into more dramatic film roles in the coming years.

‘Safe Space’ could have been one of the definitive films about losing a family member, but because of its "interesting" subplot it, unfortunately, weighs down its stellar cast and the film’s final package to come out as an average endeavour.

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