Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Stars: Justin Long, Fran Drescher
Writer/Director: Daniel Schechter
Reviewed at the Tribeca Film Festival
The original title of writer/director Daniel Schecter’s film, Safe Spaces, was, of course, ironic. As Schechter illustrates in this big-hearted, infinitely human comedy, no place is really safe: the soul is pre-programmed for being hurt — and for hurting others, whether it wants to or not.
Justin Long — an actor with the face of a baby if that baby had Brooke Shields’ eyebrows — plays Josh, a good-natured but aimless adjunct professor of creative writing at a New York City college, where it seems the simple act of opening his mouth is enough to set off trigger alarms and righteous indignation among his students and co-workers. Accordingly, an unfortunate conversation with one student spins wildly out of control and soon Josh is sitting in front of a pair of administrators whose attitude toward him is one part intervention and two parts Spanish Inquisition.
The scene is played for uncomfortable laughs, but Schechter isn’t interested in branding Josh’s adversaries as Inclusion Nazis. Instead, he bestows on them the same measure of compassion he affords Josh. Their only flaw is that they are human: a species with naturally thin skin and an instinct to lash out.
The supporting cast masterfully fleshes out these sensitive souls, each of them searching futilely for their own safe spaces: Josh’s father (The West Wing’s Richard Schiff) is trapped in a second marriage from Hell. His mother (Fran Drescher) is losing her original safe haven, her childhood home, recently vacated by her dying mother (Lynn Cohen). His sister (Kate Berlant) is slumming with Josh after a bad breakup.
What unites them all, like it or not, is the umbrella of family — in the end the only safe space that matters.