Josh Cohn (Justin Long) is an adjunct professor of creative writing whose life is turned upside down after he encourages one of his students to open up about an intimate relationship – a move that gets him into trouble with the college dean. As if things could not get any worse, the 38-year-old must scramble to keep his dysfunctional family at bay before his dying grandmother Agatha (Lynn Cohen) takes her final breath. Despite this tumultuous period Josh is a warm-hearted man, shown through his relationship with Caterina (Silvia Morigi), for whom he has a huge amount of love and respect. The protagonist prefers, more than anything else, to spend his days cuddling and showering her with kisses, even though she makes it clear right from the very beginning that their get-togethers should remain casual as she is returning to Europe in a matter of months.
Everyday stresses multiply ten-fold when Josh’s father Jeff (Richard Schiff) refuses to invite his grandchildren to his other son’s birthday party – a child of his from another marriage. The film shows how life is not as straightforward as it appears to be when one is young; as we grow so do our problems. The professor’s mother Diane (Fran Drescher) carries a lot of weight on her shoulders throughout the feature. As her mother’s primary caregiver, she must balance her own emotions while also making tough decisions for Agatha. She strives to ensure that the protagonist’s grandmother suffers as little as possible, even if the results bring Diane sadness and despair. Drescher brilliantly captures the painful roller coaster that comes with preparing to say goodbye to a loved one; in this poignant case, not just any, but the one who brought us into the world.
Given its relatively generic storyline, Safe Spaces has incredible warmth, propelled largely by Long’s performance. The actor juggles his character’s sensitivity with the aloofness that comes with not knowing what this individual truly wants in life. In many ways, the plot is reminiscent of David Mamet’s 1992 play, Oleanna. The work similarly delves into the issues that a college professor faces after one of his female students accuses him of sexual harassment. Daniel Schechter’s portrayal of a turbulent family unit gives the film a thought-provoking angle. The Cohns may be facing trying times, but at the end of the day, they are blood-ties and when one of them is in need, the rest will be there to guide them through the storm.
Safe Spaces is released digitally on demand on 7th December 2020.
Watch the trailer for Safe Spaces here: