Film Review: The FutureMuch like her debut film, Miranda July’s sophomore feature keeps dancing perilously close to the edge of terminal whimsy only to be yanked back by moments of stunning emotional truth.
Watching a Miranda July joint can be a whiplash-inducing experience. Just when you think you can’t take any more of her affected delivery, studiously artless camera compositions and passive-aggressive whimsy, she goes and captures a moment of such simple, transcendent beauty, it almost takes your breath away. Both of the feature films she’s made to date have applied her odd but earnest sensibility to the subject of romantic relationships. Her acclaimed debut, 2005’s Me and You and Everyone We Know, followed the mating dance of two people (July and John Hawkes) who felt stirrings for each other, but weren’t entirely certain how to act on them. Her new film, The Future, on the other hand, finds its pair of lovers, Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (July), well-entrenched in coupledom.
As the movie begins, these two 35-year-old Los Angelenos have been together for four years and they’re about to take the next big step in their relationship: adopting a cat from the local animal shelter. Because their new addition—whom they’ve affectionately named Paw Paw—is recovering from surgery, though, they’ll have to wait a month before bringing him home, at which point they’ll effectively become full-time animal caretakers as his list of ailments requires constant attention. This gives them 30 days to adjust to the idea of becoming “parents,” a realization that understandably freaks them out a bit. As Jason summarizes the situation, should Paw Paw end up living out his full five-year life expectancy, by the time he passes on, they’ll both be 40—and 40 is basically the same as 50 and everything after 50 is “spare change.”
Confronted with this frightening vision of their own mortality, the two take the bold step of quitting their only-for-the-paycheck jobs and cutting the cord on their Internet connection permanently. (In the movie’s most hilarious scene, Jason and Sophie hurriedly spend their last 60 minutes online just randomly surfing around picking up random bits of trivia, like the fact that Christmas falls on a Tuesday that year. It’s funny because it’s so, so true.) With these distractions out of the way, the plan is that they’ll be able to dedicate themselves to pursuing their real passions. Unfortunately, neither of them is entirely certain what exactly those real passions are, which leads them to wig out in wildly different ways. Jason volunteers for an environmental group despite having only a mild interest in the environment and buys a refurbished blow dryer for Sophie as some kind of token of his affection.
She, meanwhile, attempts to launch an ambitious video project that involves recording herself performing a different dance each day for 30 days and posting the results on YouTube. When that goal proves a non-starter, Sophie instead strikes up an affair with Marshall (David Warshofsky), a middle-aged single father who offers her an escape from the increasingly claustrophobic life she shares with Jason. With Marshall, there are no expectations or demands—and he certainly isn’t interested in bringing a sick cat into his house. Speaking of Paw Paw, he appears every now and then to offer his thoughts on his situation in voiceover, longingly expressing his desire for a real home outside of his kennel and contemplating, in his infinite feline wisdom, the nature of time and space.
Much of this (particularly the stuff with the cat) probably sounds inordinately precious and twee, and it’s true that navigating The Future does require a certain tolerance for fanciful philosophizing. And since she doesn’t strive for the visual showmanship of, say, Terrence Malick, the images July shoots generally aren’t rich enough to enhance (or, depending on your feelings about a movie like The Tree of Life, distract from) the director’s musings. At the same time, her straightforward, unadorned filmmaking is still capable of evoking some powerful emotions. For example, in one scene, Sophie encounters a pair of expectant mothers and sees their children grow from fetuses to infants, to toddlers, to teens to grown adults all in just a handful of cuts—the future becomes the present in only a few blinks of the eye. Another haunting sequence finds Jason literally stopping time at precisely 3:14 a.m. to avoid the conversation that will mean the end of his relationship with the person he assumed he would grow old with. For all of the movie’s annoyances, July’s ability to capture painfully honest and true moments like these proves that she has—pardon the pun—a real future as a filmmaker.