Bizarre ‘Future’ asks questions, gives pause
A narrating cat, a crawling shirt, the man in the moon - these and other elements of Miranda July’s “The Future’’ are so patently bizarre that you might expect the film to collapse under the weight of its own whimsy. This is the July that enchants some moviegoers and has others reaching for strong liquor. The first film from the gawky, Harpo-haired performance artist, 2005’s “Me and You and Everybody We Know,’’ was a gently loopy comedy about human connection; it got by (and then some) on the clarity of July’s dazed vision.
“The Future,’’ by contrast, turns out to be a tragedy about human disconnection - about how our timidity and self-absorption ruin any chances we might have to genuinely know each other - and it has an unyielding bleakness that deepens as it goes. Halfway into this film, I wanted to smack the mopey bohemian couple played by July and Hamish Linklater; by the end, I realized the director was smacking them for me, and hard. In a case of biting the hand that feeds her, July has made possibly the worst date movie ever for trendy modern couples - a work that traps a pair of passive-aggressive hipsters in a drift of their own making.
About that cat: Her name is Paw-Paw, and Sophie (July) and Jason (Linklater) are planning to bring her home from the animal shelter in a month, after her leg has healed. Kidney problems may keep her from living more than half a year, which, in a sense, is what the couple is counting on. They’re not sure they can handle more commitment than that. Every so often, “The Future’’ cuts away to Paw-Paw’s pacing puppet feet as her hopes and fears fill the soundtrack in a squeaky voice provided by July herself. (It’s OK, the exit’s that way.)
An early shot of Sophie and Jason curled up on their couch, each lost to their own laptop, tells us everything we need to know about these two while simultaneously hitting us where we live. She teaches dance to toddlers while never seeming to connect with her own body; he does tech support from home, interrupting conversations with Sophie to put on the headset and dispense advice. They’re terribly nice and secretly miserable.
As Paw-Paw waits and waits, Sophie and Jason impulsively decide to chuck their jobs and do something “real,’’ like creating expressive dance pieces for the Internet or going door-to-door for charity. Things turn more real than they expect. Sophie backs into an affair with a lovelorn single dad (David Warshofsky), and Jason spends afternoons hanging out with an old man (Joe Putterlik) who may be his future self.
Yes, it gets weird. Weirder still when one of the characters literally stops time rather than hear a piece of bad news, and days pass in pause mode. You may know people who do their own version of this. Oddly, the more surreal “The Future’’ gets, the more focused it becomes, until it seems as if physical reality itself is arguing with these two to get it together. What keeps these people from actively living their lives? The daughter (Isabella Acres) of Sophie’s lover buries herself up to her neck in her backyard, an act of suburban Beckett, entombing and freeing herself at the same time. And Paw-Paw keeps waiting.
July’s movies take place in the anonymous blocks of her hometown, Los Angeles; it’s as if the architecture itself were too shy to individuate. The score, composed by the multi-talented Jon Brion, is alluringly tentative. On the other hand, July herself has become more physically confident as a performer, and her Sophie is in some scenes painfully awkward and in others strikingly sensual.
The cat could stand for the child these two (or perhaps July) are too unready to have. On the other hand, it may just be a cat. “The Future’’ asks more questions than it cares to answer, and at times it’s a positively irritating experience. Yet I’m finding it surprisingly hard to shake, and maybe you will, too. To be a modern civilized human in this movie is to paint yourself into a corner across the room from the one person in whose corner you belong. All the good intentions in the world can’t ease the sadness of the film’s final image and its glimpse of a future without love and without end.