Released as After Class in the US, Safe Spaces stars Justin Long (Dodgeball, Die Hard 4.0) as a New York City professor, who spends a week reconnecting with his family while defending his reputation over controversial behaviour at his college. It also stars Kate Berlant, Lynn Cohen, and is directed by Daniel Schechter.
If you have followed Long’s career over the last few years, you’ll know that alongside some screwball comedies he’s also tried his hand at a number of sincere and thoughtful indie flicks, as well as launching a successful podcast ‘Life is Short’. In Safe Spaces we are most definitely getting the older, wiser, more mature Long who has been growing into himself and questioning the world around him.
Starring as Josh Cohn, we first meet him in his writing class where he pushes a young student to develop her work, divulging the intimate details she had left out in her first draft. It’s a wonderful scene that feels full of energy between a young professor and his students and a class I would like to be involved in myself. So, when the events of this particular class lead students to make a formal complaint to the college, Josh is left to contemplate his actions and any potential wrongdoing.
Among the backdrop of this, he is also dealing with the terminal illness of a beloved grandmother in the hospital as he and his extended family visit with her and try to cope with the possibility of losing her and the ripples of grief that run through them all.
Long is solid in his performance. Josh clearly has a Peter Pan complex, struggling to take responsibility in any area of his life and we see him pushing against power shifts, personally, professionally and in the wider world. A conversation between him and his father led to one of my favourite quotes of the year as he whines that he is only facing these professional issues due to being a straight white man. ‘That’s a fair point. Life would be so much easier for you if you were born black, a lesbian and a Muslim.’ The controversial behaviour at the centre of the film is complex and nuanced, but the film doesn’t pass judgement on either Josh or the students involved, instead thoughtfully allowing all sides of the conversation to run their course.
The film features a large ensemble cast that is loud, lovely and annoying. They feel drawn from real-life experiences and bounce off each other’s energy with ease. Kate Berlant who plays Josh’s screw-up sister Jackie is a delight on the screen and the bickering between her and Long are some of the best moments in the film. At times, Safe Spaces can feel a little overstuffed, but this just makes it feel even more true to life. When it rains, it pours.
Safe Spaces is available on digital download from December 7th
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