DIRECTED BY: Miranda July
FEATURING: Miranda July, Hamish Linklater, David Warshofsky, Isabella Acres
PLOT: A thirtysomething couple decides to adopt a sick cat in one month, during which time they quit their jobs and try to find ways to make their lives more satisfying. The cat (named Paw-Paw) narrates part of the story from her veterinary hospital cage.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Populated with just enough flights of fancy to warrant “eccentric” and offering a surprisingly bleak and realistic look at two people on the brink of nervous breakdown while in a crumbling relationship, The Future just isn’t strange enough for a spot on the List.
COMMENTS: Though it opens with the creepy, nasally voice-over of Paw-Paw the cat detailing its rescue by a kind couple, The Future spends most of its time with Sophie (July) and Jason (Linklater). She is an “overqualified” dance teacher for young girls, he works from home accepting tech support calls. When they decide to adopt a sick cat, their future spreads before them as nothing but caring for it and then reaching old age after it dies. Sophie tries to motivate herself to make online dance videos but instead finds solace in an affair with a friendly sign-maker. Jason becomes “open to everything,” accepting a volunteer position with an environmental group and befriending an elderly pack rat. As Paw-Paw waits patiently, her soon-to-be owners flounder in the face of self-fulfillment with anxiety-ridden freakouts.
Known in the film world for her quirk-filled debut Me and You and Everyone We Know, writer and performance artist Miranda July is developing definite trademarks. She once again employs experimental voice-over and somewhat stilted scripting for a portrait of white middle-class romance, but this time her characters are more realized and the emotions more focused. As Sophie and Jason claw their way through individual bouts of near-insanity, a surprisingly touching story unfolds. For the most part we are looking at this relationship from the outside in, seeing these characters more often apart than together. Sophie’s uncertain relationship with sign-maker Marshall and Jason’s curious friendship with elderly chatterbox Joe offer insights unseen in their actual interactions with one another.
This is uncharacteristic for me but I actually found most of the “weirder” parts detrimental to the film overall. The creepy cat narration and puppet paws feel irrelevant and clashing—it doesn’t move the story forward and it doesn’t increase my sympathy for the cat or the couple. Sophie’s suddenly animated t-shirt also feels out of the blue. The best offbeat technique is employed towards the end, when Jason literally stops time so he can sort out his feelings about Sophie’s infidelity, and ends up in a sad conversation with the moon. It’s a neat trick and sets forth an interesting structure for that segment of the film, and serves to highlight Hamish Linklater—an actor often set in supporting roles—as a performer.
There’s a good amount of twee baggage weighing down The Future. Some of July’s little touches of style and wry humor are fun, but many drag the focus away from the central story unnecessarily. The writing and characterization just aren’t tight enough. It is at times a beautiful and heartbreaking film, and even quite funny at others, but viewers need to wade through a lot of excess in order to hit upon the most effective points.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“‘The Future,’ July’s coy and precious new film, is just oddball enough to be interesting, if not good.” –Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor (contemporaneous)
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