Safe Spaces – Review

Release Date – 7th December 2020, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 33 minutes, Director – Daniel Schechter

A college professor (Justin Long) finds himself defending his comments in class that have made a student uncomfortable, while also looking after his deeply ill grandmother (Lynn Cohen) in hospital with his chaotic family.

On its initial release last year in the US writer-director Daniel Schechter’s Safe Spaces was called After Class. While the film follows college professor Josh (Justin Long) and initially revolves around controversial comments he makes in a scriptwriting class about a student’s sexual experience after a date that make another student feel uncomfortable, it quickly explores the other aspects of his life. Josh’s grandmother (Lynn Cohen) is in hospital and it seems that things aren’t going well, most of his distanced family have arrived and are making things even more chaotic.

His sister, Jackie (Kate Berlant) has arrived and made herself at home in his flat, with him and his partner – although the relationship seems to be for different things depending on who you look at. His relationship with his father (Richard Schiff) is possibly the most distant. He barely associates with the rest of his family, not even telling his son from his second marriage, Ben (Tyler Wladis) – who, for some reason, gets angry at even the thought of Josh’s existence – that he has brothers and a sister.

Things simply don’t go well for Josh throughout the film. The general plot is a series of worsening situations for the main character. His work-life is almost forgotten at a number of points, despite being the catalyst and perhaps the main thought that the film wants to dwell on, there are so many other elements that are brought in and seemingly made worse over the course of the film that it almost begins to feel too busy. The humour that the film once held, even if not always succeeding in raising a laugh, begins to fade away as the drama takes centre stage, or simply the laughs are also forgotten about, and the film tries to get in as close to 90 minutes as possible.

As the film develops and things possibly couldn’t get any worse for the protagonist – who does struggle to simply apologise for his inappropriate comments, causing further trouble for himself when students refuse to turn up to class in protest – territory of near sympathy begins to be strayed near to. As certain comments are thrown around – especially by two particular students who claim that they’re going to start a petition to say Josh did nothing wrong – the film risks straying into, and points this out, ‘the woes of the persecuted straight, white, cis male’. However, the film borders on this, just about avoiding being a full-on sympathy piece for someone who is rather in the wrong, and knows it, but just doesn’t apologise and instead insists on defending himself in all situations of life.

Everything combines to simply create something that’s a rush to resolve, and with the humour having gone early on it does highlight how crowded the plot is. The film passes well enough and it’s a perfectly fine watch, however when it borders on certain types of sympathy – particularly towards some of Josh’s, to put it lightly, more controversial comments and actions – it does begin to further highlight its own flaws. There are a number of issues within this busy film, however there are some moments that work and hit the mark fairly well along the short course of this ‘dramedy’ – heavily focusing on the drama after pushing most of the comedic elements aside.

Much like the family at the centre of it Safe Spaces is rather busy and a bit chaotic, and the college elements certainly aren’t the main focus. However, there are some watchable moments throughout that collect to make this a decent enough, if rather average, viewing.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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