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The Future

August 13, 2011
The Future

I’ve said it before, but it bears repetition: what the hell is wrong with Miranda July? On the surface, at least, she has something in common with Sofia Coppola in that being divorced from any kind of commercial pressure leads directly to self-indulgence. But where Coppola is merely oblivious — there’s a reason Marie Antoinette was her project — July feels actively cynical. It was true in Me and You and Everyone We Know, and it’s true in The Future.

Thankfully, July doesn’t feel the need to press the arty-creepy button as hard this time, but you can still pick out element after element that feel like they’ve been worked in explicitly to engender positive reactions in art-house critical hearts everywhere. The result is trite and twee and pretentious, and it reeks of a commercialism that belies its artistic patina. This is the Mister Brainwash of both cinema and performance art.

So, Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are a couple in their mid-30s. Jason works tech support for some comput company from a headset in their apartment, while Sophie teaches dance classes to little kids, though if she ever was a dancer herself she’s long forgotten her sense of balance. They found an injured feral cat which they named “Paw Paw” and took to an animal shelter. In a month it will be healed and they will bring it home, where they expected to let it live out its last few months.

But the vet tells them that if they take good care of it it could last five more years. In five years, they reason, they will be 40; 40 is “basically 50”; and after 50 it’s “loose change — too little to get anything you want”. And so they convince themselves that when they pick up Paw Paw at the end of the month their lives are basically over. Yes, that is seriously the best she could come up with.

What follows is basically a long working-out of July’s existential dread of the undiscovered country. Both Sophie and Jason spontaneously quit their jobs — evidently they have the confidence that everything will work out over the course of thirty days but not over the course of thirty years — and open themselves to the possibilities of the universe. Jason goes door to door selling trees and meets a Quirky Old Man straight from Central Casting (Joe Putterlik) who gives him some Insight into Life. Sophie decides to produce YouTube videos of thirty dances, which leads to self-consciousness and the always-enjoyable sight of a rail-thin young woman with professional hair, makeup, and lighting complain that she’s not pretty. Oh, and then a completely inexplicable affair with a self-confessedly sleazy older guy from Tarzana (David Warshofsky).

And all of this is intercut with monologues from Paw Paw (voiced by July, electronically distorted into Björkian territory), which have only the most tenuous connection to the rest of the narrative, and awkward stabs at magical realism. Linklater does the best he can, and he actually should be commended for his performance. But it’s a great performance of some really terrible material, so there’s only so much to be done.

It’s hard to discern any one coherent point to the whole mess, and maybe that itself is a kind of point. But it ends up feeling more like July is using her performance art and films to work out the same sort of vague, ineffabilities most people would work out in therapy. And while I’m sure July’s art is very therapeutic to her, I don’t see any reason anyone should have to pay ten dollars for the privilege of being her therapist.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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