Future, The (2011)

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 09/16/11 04:18:59

"No sophomore slump for the queen of indie quirk."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Performance artist and indie filmmaker Miranda July’s first film, "Me You and Everyone We Know," was greeted enthusiastically by festival/arthouse audiences and film critics, but that was then (2004) and this is now (2011). The “now” refers to July’s long-in-gestation second film, "The Future," a magical-realist-tinged relationship comedy-drama. A study of a thirty-something romantic relationship in mid-crisis, "The Future" reflects July’s quirky sensibilities, sensibilities that occasionally fall on the wrong side of the twee/not-twee divide, but as with much indie filmmaking unconstrained by major studio demands, the end result offers a unique take and insight into romantic relationships that have moved past the initial glow of first-lust, first-year typical of most romantic relationships.

From the first shot of a black screen and girlish voiceover narration (July), it’s clear The Future may trod familiar ground, relationship comedy-drama wise, but from a singularly eccentric perspective. The off-screen voice belongs not to July’s character in The Future, Sophie, but to an injured stray Sophie and her longtime boyfriend, Jason (Hamish Linklater), rescued from certain death. The cat, Paw-Paw, so named for the bandage wrapped around one paw narrates her experiences as a stray and her idealized hopes of a better life through Sophie and Jason. Due to the need for constant care, the rescue shelter won’t release Paw-Paw for 30 days, giving Sophie and Jason, a borderline-unlikeable, carefree couple in their mid-thirties (he provides tech support from home, she teaches dance to children), a brief reprieve from what seems to them a daunting responsibility.

That unexpected reprieve drives Jason and Sophie to quit their respective jobs. Jason, a New Age-hipster type, decides to open himself to whatever opportunities appear, no matter how coincidental or tangential they initially seem. Jason hopes to find something, anything more satisfactory than his previous occupation. Sophie decides to use the time to create and post 30 days worth of dance videos on YouTube. Jason’s path leads him to canvassing for an environmental organization, Tree for Tree. Sophie’s video project quickly flounders under the weight of her over-ambitious expectations and, to be charitable, a creative block (she seems, at best, semi-talented). Sophie’s lack of direction leads her make contact with a virtual stranger, Marshall (David Warshofsky), a successful businessman Jason encountered at the shelter.

Jason and Sophie refuse to acknowledge, however, the risk the time off from the normal and mundane poses to their four-year relationship. They’ve reached a fragile, passionless, seemingly sex-free comfort zone. Marshall may pose an explicit threat to the “future” of the title, but he’s just a catalyst for the failures. Paw-Paw’s voiceover narration acts as a Greek chorus of sorts, both reflecting the limited perspective of the narrator (she’s a cat, after all) and Jason and Sophie’s hopes, fears, and desires. Paw-Paw, however, is also on a deadline: if Jason and Sophie don’t return in exactly 30 days to claim her as promised, she’ll be euthanized (a direct parallel to the fate awaiting Jason and Sophie’s relationship).

A talking, introspective cat may be the height of whimsy, but July isn’t afraid to add one or two other magical realist touches to The Future. In an early scene, Jason jokes that he can stop time. Later, when the end of his relationship with Sophie seems certain, he literally stops time, but he’s only stopping time for himself, disappearing inside his own head for several days. It’s an obvious exteriorization of an internal mental state typical of magical realism (i.e., metaphor made literal). Time keeps moving forward without him, paralleling Sophie’s choice to pursue a romantic relationship with Marshall, the once-married, now-divorced father of one and suburban dweller. The relationship gives Sophie a chance to test out an alternative life, but it’s less of a conscious choice than an unconscious one.

If "The Future" is any indication, July hasn’t grown much as a filmmaker since she directed her first film seven years ago. To her credit, though, she uses her visual limitations to her benefit, allowing the characters to breathe and the actors, herself included, to register depth and range in their performances as their chaotic inner lives break through the placid surface of their everyday, complacent lives. Not every visual tangent or image works, however. Sophie’s semi-inept dance moves may be both amusing and insightful of her limitations as a dancer (and her delusions thereof), but the image of Sophie’s favorite, long-sleeve t-shirt ambling down a street, propelled by an innate desire to reunite itself with its owner (another metaphor made literal, this time representative of Sophie’s longing for her life with Jason) falls into the too-precious-by-half, most-definitely-twee category.

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