Safe Spaces is a touching and emotionally effective comedy-drama that details the challenges of acceptance and taking responsibility for events that happen in one’s life.
Josh Cohn (Justin Long) is creative writing lecturer. Trying to handle the declining health of his grandmother while surrounded by a family who is going through their troubles. One day in class he asks a student to reveal too much, causing him to be pulled up in front of the administrators of his University. As both problems run parallel, Josh has to figure out how to work through both without losing everything he holds dear.
We see two sides to the sensitivities of the human psyche here in Safe Spaces, the sensitivity of encroaching on a person’s private life when they are surrounded by their peers and the result of how that not only affects that person but those around them. Josh sees no issues with what he has done by having his student open up about what happened to them. He sees it as freeing, the University rightfully views it differently causing Josh to have to learn (after a couple of blunders) on how to accept everyone else’s feelings regarding the situation.
Then we have the sensitivity of having to battle through the remaining weeks and days of a loved one. Not only do you have to cope with the upcoming loss while the person is still alive, but you also have to create a network with your family or loved ones. The issue is that Josh can’t see that death is coming for Agatha (Lynn Cohen), or he won’t accept it due to her value to him. Josh is unwilling to accept the truths in both of these situations and fact reverts when seeing how his mother is pragmatically sorting through his grandmother’s possessions. He crushingly has that hope that things will turn out for the better. The same way he feels that his students over-reacted over that class and that they are not opening themselves up to their abilities and life.
Unsurprisingly where Safe Spaces is at its strongest is when we are with the family side of Josh’s life crisis. This is where the true meant and emotional pull of the story is and there is real sincerity in these scenes that strike home. This could be from a biased viewpoint from someone who has recently had to care and subsequently arrange a funeral for their father, however. There are moments in Safe Spaces that echo real-life grief and a person’s handling of the death of a close relative. People react to crises differently, Josh certainly reacts differently from others in his family and that takes a toll, not only on him but others, as they try to support one another.
Writer/director Daniel Schechter provides us with a film that feels comfortable with itself, much like its lead showing a slight cockiness in its confidence. Happily, Schechter does not make the mistakes that his lead does and we can have characters that feel authentic, from the extended family of Josh to his students. Actions from characters also make sense, which is pleasing considering such films akin to Safe Spaces tend to venture into the unbelievable at times. There is possibly a tad too many obstacles for Josh to encounter here, however, which assists with a slight detraction from the film as it just simply tries to bite off more than it can chew.
Justin Long stretches his talented limbs here and is as enjoyable as he is heart-breaking. An experienced hand at this type of character, this is a performance that feels all too relatable. A character who has firmly had the carpet pulled up from his feet, he is lost as he attempts to not only figure himself out but also to be there for those who matter to him.
Safe Spaces does try to have its cake and eat it as it not only focuses on the strong storyline of handling grief when the ailing family member is still alive but also with issues within society between different generations of people. It falters more on the latter aspect of the film as in truth that deserves an entire film dedicated to it rather than just being a key subplot. This is still a film that is more than worth your viewing time.
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