Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Future

The Future

I fell deeply and truly for Miranda July as a filmmaker with her 2005 debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, so it was with a certain amount of expectation (and maybe a little anxiety) that I approached her latest film, The Future.

July and her costar Hamish Linklater (a perennial favorite at Shakespeare in the Park here in NYC) play a couple, Sophie and Jason, who are about to adopt a cat. They can't bring it home for another month, because it has a broken leg that has to heal, and it's already a sick cat, requiring a strict regimen of medication. Sophie and Jason realize that, once they bring the cat home, they won't be able to make any drastic life changes until it dies, which (best case scenario) will be about five years from now. They'll both be forty at that point, and Jason states that "forty is basically fifty" and that everything after fifty is "loose change." That's harsh, especially to my nearly 36 year old ears, but it's an interesting observation about most people's life patterns. These characters are at that age - and I am too, I guess - where we start to realize that there are only a finite number of things we're going to be able to do before we die. They decide to live this final cat-free month as if it's the last month of their lives. Jason decides to quit his tech support job and follow wherever fate leads. Sophie quits her job as a children's dance teacher and tries to start a YouTube project. Each of them deals with this life experiment in different and inept ways, and their lives basically fall apart.

Threading the whole thing together is narration by Paw Paw, the cat, who is voiced by and whose front paws are animated by July herself. These bits of narration serve much the same purpose as the video art segments do in Me and You and Everyone We Know. They give the film its voice and unique language.

There are several great scenes that could almost be short films by themselves. One of my favorites is when Sophie has called to have the internet turned off - part of their re-prioritizing - and rushes Jason home so that they can look up whatever they need to look up in the hour they have left. Jason thinks it's crazy to turn the internet off and asks what they're going to do if they want to know something, and Sophie says they'll just have to ask someone or ... not know. Which I couldn't help thinking is EXACTLY what the entire world had to do before we had the internet at our disposal (which was not really all that long ago). After looking up some not-terribly-important stuff for a minute or so, Sophie and Jason soon seem to realize this fact as well and calmly close their twin laptops.

The two of them each strike up unexpected relationships with strangers. Jason befriends an elderly gentleman who gives him some perspective on his relationship with Sophie, telling him that after four years with her, he's still in the beginning part. That those are the hardest times and they're both going to do horrible things and they'll just have to work through it. Sophie cold calls a single dad who drew a picture of his daughter that Jason bought from the animal shelter in the beginning of the film, and what starts as a bizarre phone conversation becomes a full-fledged sexual affair (speaking of doing horrible things).

Miranda July's films are devilishly hard to describe. This film in particular has some great magical elements - Jason, for example, can stop time with his mind, and has a conversation with the moon. Sophie has a shirt that follows her and that she ultimately has this rather amazing dance with. It's all part of her singular imagination, and it's a big reason why so many people love her films. And why others hate them.

Because July has plenty of detractors - people who think she's the epitome of everything that is wrong with hipster culture. They call her films "precious" and "twee" - which I can't help feel are insults about her gender as much as her filmmaking. Perhaps worst of all, some feel that the oddball nature of her films and her characters are just a big joke or some ironic comment. July's films are actually the opposite of the hipster chic embodied by films like Napoleon Dynamite. She's not trying to be quirky or offbeat in some ironic way, like someone who's trying to be cool by being uncool. This is really her mind and her imagination. People connect with her films - or at least I do - because there's something in them that makes them think "I thought I was the only person who did that!"

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