Fans of Miranda July’s full-length directorial debut Me and You and Everyone We Know have been waiting for the multi-talented artist to return to the world of film. After more than half a decade and numerous projects during that time, The Future is finally releasing in select theaters across the country. Does July’s quirky drama have what it takes to recapture filmgoers’ hearts like her previous film? Or is The Future yet another indie film that is bizarre just for the sake of being unusual?
Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are going through a crisis. In one month, the couple will adopt a fragile stray cat named Paw Paw that will require constant attention, living anywhere from six months to five years. The thought of losing their freedom terrifies them, and they resolve to accomplish their dreams while abandoning their jobs and an internet connection. Sophie attempts to post a dance per day on YouTube, while Jason lets himself fall into a job selling trees to save the planet. However, Sophie’s creative failures cause her to become withdrawn and unsure of herself. Soon, she becomes romantically involved with an older stranger, Marshall (David Warshofsky), who allows her to drift through life unconcerned, something that takes its toll on her marriage.
Though The Future is about an affair, you never feel entirely resentful against the adulterer, even though you can tell it’s her fault. Sophie is sympathetic in her attempts to escape the trap she feels she is in, one of both time and maturity. Her decision to remove her internet access only exasperates the problem, as she finds herself without the distractions that keep her from thinking about her impending responsibility. The idea that she and Jason will be as good as “dead” in 30 days is a little overdramatic, but it is based on a common fear. The idea of no longer having our freedom likely comes up as we leave our parents’ house, and further down the line as we contemplate creating our own family. In this sense, it’s only natural for Sophie to want to retreat into a childlike fantasy where someone can take care of her.
The film becomes a sort of fantasy itself as it draws in supernatural and unexplained elements. Time and space are warped to emphasize a character’s fears. Jason himself has a prolonged conversation with the moon. The story is framed with occasional narration by Paw Paw (with only his front two paws visible), describing his hopes and dreams of a new life with Sophie and Jason. As these elements become more pronounced throughout the film, The Future becomes a series of dreamy metaphors instead of anything resembling the romantic crisis the film seems to be. In fact, the only way one could definitively describe the film is “artsy.”
And yet, this doesn’t make it pretentious. Oh sure, there are moments where things seem thrown in and nonsensical. Searching for the meaning of Marshall’s daughter wanting to be buried up to her neck in her backyard is something that still perplexes me. But these moments are still fascinating to watch, only adding to the daydream Sophie wants to have. Even Paw Paw’s voice, drenched in broken cuteness so as to elicit maximum sympathy from the audience, broke through the cynical shell I put up when I heard him start talking at the beginning of the film.
It helps that even the stranger scenes are wrapped in alluring cinematography. Carefully cluttered rooms mix with faded colors that still appear vibrant to create vintage, candid shots that look inspired by a Polaroid camera. The one downside to these shots is that, due to the focus on Sophie and Jason, and to a lesser extent Sophie and Marshall, plenty of the scenes end up feeling like a two-person play — which isn’t too far from the truth, since July says The Future originated from one of her performances. It’s a minor gripe, but one that must be mentioned.
The actors are made for their roles. July and Linklater seem made for each other, two stringy-haired lovers in their 30s aspiring to the Bohemian lifestyle. They’re comfortingly familiar characters for those who seek out avant-garde cinema, which makes it all the more sad when Sophie starts associating with Warshofsky’s character. Marshall doesn’t seem like a bad guy, but compared to Jason’s intriguing personality, his lame, safe interactions are enough to inspire disgust in Sophie’s choice.
The Future is a charming, experimental film possessing a sorrowful core, punctuated with smartly-written offbeat humor. Beneath all the metaphors and distinctive dialogue is a story of a couple trying to deal with what life has in store with them and facing fears familiar to many. It’s a shame July will be taking a break from filmmaking to work on other projects, because this is one director to watch.