Synopsis: In her follow-up to ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, internationally-acclaimed artist, author and filmmaker Miranda July returns with this story of a thirty-something couple whose decision to adopt a cat changes their perspective on life, literally altering the course of time and testing their faith in themselves and each other.
Release Date: July 29, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Sophie and Jason are 35-year old hipsters who, realizing they’ve accomplished nothing in their narcissistic lives, decide to become better people. To do this, they adopt a cat from a shelter and in the thirty day waiting period, radically reinvent their new, better selves. She, a dance instructor for kids, quits her job to focus on an “art project:” inventing a new dance everyday, filming herself doing it and putting it on YouTube. He, a stay-at-home IT consultant, quits his job to focus on being more “alert,” which he does by joining an environmental group that solicits door-to-door to plant trees in the neighborhood. The couple disconnects from the Internet only to find themselves confronted by their own stultifying uselessness. Writer/director Miranda July has called The Future a horror film. Indeed, the horror of not having the Internet to distract you from the realization that your entire existence has been a boring waste.
But, as annoyingly twee as Sophie (played by July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) start out being, the film quickly shuts them up and puts them to work. He finds himself drawn to Joe (Joe Putterlik), an old man who sells used household items through the PennySaver. Joe is the kind of genuine eccentric who doesn’t realize his behavior is any different from anyone else’s. He becomes a kind of surrogate father to Jason, who gradually becomes aware that he and Joe are not so dissimilar. Embarking on her own journey, Sophie meets Marshall (David Warshofsky), a middle-aged “square” dad who lives a comfortable, suburban existence. Marshall is the exact opposite of Jason. They quickly begin an affair.
Narrating the film is the couples’ soon-to-be adopted cat, voiced in a scratchy/cutesy falsetto by July. The cat has dreams and desires of her own: to be adopted by wonderful people, to be loved, to be petted, to sleep somewhere warm. This is the cat’s singular ambition, reiterated again and again in the month she is waiting to be picked up. July is smart in her use of the cat-as-commentator, bringing her back when the characters’ new lives have become more complicated and less adoption-centered (although the voice is too self-consciously “cute” to be taken seriously). Ultimately, the cat represents the true nature of Sophie and Jason’s spiritual journeys and the kind of self-obsessed immaturity and emotional vacuity that has a real impact on the lives of others.
Writer/director Miranda July’s sense of humor is certainly an acquired taste. Working within the realm of intimate, character-based pseudo-comedy, The Future, like her first film Me and You and Everyone We Know, has its fair share of cringe-worthy moments. Frankly, I felt more inclined to laugh at Sophie and Jason than with them. With their matching curly mop-top hairdos and chic hipster poverty (crappy car, shiny Macbook), the couple more than invites ridicule. But July seems to be in on the joke. It’s a cosmic joke, one that takes on metaphysical irony as Sophie and Jason supplicate for enlightenment only to discover the universe’s extreme disinterest. Mixing with this black comedy is a string of offbeat non-sequiturs. Jason, listing his failings: “I’d always thought I’d be smarter.” Or when Marshall notices Sophie staring off into space (pondering her own existential malaise): “Are you hungry? Do you want a tangerine?” And just when the humor threatens to get too cutesy, July throws in a cat with renal failure to jolt you back into a nihilistic chuckle.
How’s this for a story arc: a woman keeps an old t-shirt as a security blanket. When she stops depending on it for comfort, the shirt begins stalking her, creeping along sidewalks, inching its way into the young woman’s new independent life. In a moment of weakness and desperation, the woman grabs the t-shirt but, instead of slipping it over her head normally, she puts her feet in the armholes and folds the hem over her face. The young woman begins to stretch out the shirt, bending her legs and arching her back in a kind of primitive dance. The woman transforms herself into a faceless, gangly-limbed, amorphous creature that wouldn’t be out of place in a Guillermo del Toro movie. It is an uncanny image, and an unsettling scene of pure performance–one of several in a film that only gets better as it gets weirder.
The third act of The Future descends into such eerily delightful science-fiction territory, it almost makes you forget how essentially dull its characters are. Jason somehow attains the power to make time stand still, an ability that July fully exploits to invoke an impressionistic temporality. At the same moment most films speed through a climax and denouement, July slows everything down, allowing her characters to conduct their scenes at an individual pace, cross-cutting between Sophie’s new life with Marshall as Jason tries to suspend the passage of time, preventing Sophie from leaving him. By rapidly cutting between timelines & storylines (something the film has avoided to this point), July counteractively ramps up the speed of her protagonists’ predicaments, even as their lives are slowing down. The result is a narrative urgency and a sense in the viewer of pleasant bewilderment, like light-hearted David Lynch.
The Future is a film with a lot of ideas, some of which work and some of which never escape the realm of theoretical interest. July’s film contains elements of her work as a performance artist; some scenes could be lifted out of the film entirely and stand on their own as visual installations or short films. The Future earns its recommendation not for any notable profundity (there isn’t any), but for the scope of the filmmakers’ ambition to tell a familiar story with an improvisational plasticity that provides enough moments of bizarre humor and genuine emotion to justify its more unpalatable affectations.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Miranda JulyRoman Paul
- Producer(s): Miranda July
- Screenwriter(s): Miranda July (Sophie/Voice of Paw-Paw)Hamish Linklater (Jason)David Warshofsky (Marshall)
- Story: Isabella Acres (Gabriella)
- Cast: Joe Putterlik (Joe)Kathleen Gati (Dr. Straus) Andrew BirdNikolai von GraevenitzElliott Hostetter
- Cinematographer: Jon Brion
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: GermanyUSA