If I told you Miranda July's The Future features a character who converses with the moon and is a narrated by a cat named Paw Paw there is probably a good chunk of readers who will immediately resolve never to see this film or any of July's other films for that matter. Hipster navel-gazing and indie film quirk are not exactly the most popular of cultural trends, and from a distance it can appear as if July is pushing both past the limits of audience endurance in some misguided attempt to see herself crowned Queen of the Hipsters. I was a big fan of July's debut film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, but even I approached The Future warily after hearing about some of these oh-so-precious touches. Contrary to expectations, I found these elements to be the ones which work the best. To my surprise, I even found myself wishing for July to pile on more fanciful touches. The better to distract from the flat-lining main story.
The Future concerns Sophie and Jason, a couple of free spirits, or, to be more accurate, a couple who would like to imagine themselves free spirits. They have managed to push into their mid-thirties while avoiding any semblance of an adult life. Sophie and Jason have been together for years but remain unmarried - marriage would be way too decisive an action for these two. He does tech support from home, she teaches dance to small children in a way that would be more accurately described as babysitting in leotards. They work these crappy jobs for now but they have big plans to do... something. They don't know. One of their big plans is to some day have big plans.
July does locate some truth in this material. The way the thrill of quitting runs smack into the reality of unemployment, and worse, the crushing pressure of total freedom. Sophie's best attempt at engaging life is a plan to court Internet celebrity by posting dance videos to YouTube, despite the fact that the herky-jerky spasms she calls dances don't betray any actual talent. Jason, for his part, stumbles into a job selling trees door to door for an environmental group, but lacks the will to even quit properly when he belatedly realizes the environment is on the long list of things he can't bring himself to care about. They carried on for years pretending that jobs were standing between them and happiness but they realize quickly that work was the only thing distracting them from the essential emptiness of their lives.
That any material about these deadbeats is watchable is a tribute to July's observational gifts as a filmmaker. She has a definite knack for finding details that draw out the strangeness in the every day and for crafting dialogue that follows logic on strange loops and tangents. The problem with The Future, and it is a pretty fatal one, is that she has hamstrung herself with a central couple that suck the life out of everything. I have known people with a similar lack of motivation who were nonetheless fun to be around and who were capable of saying clever, original things. This is not the case with Sophie and Jason. I question whether they have the spark required to finish a 100 piece jigsaw puzzle let alone grab life by the horns. We grasp this idea early on and after that there is very little to be gained from watching these two mope through the remainder of the film's running time.
To be fair, some drama develops involving Sophie's panicked attempt to escape her situation, or very least put it on hold. This escape hatch takes the form of an older, more successful single dad (actor David Warshofsky whom you may remember as the business man whose throat Daniel Plainview so memorably promised to cut). This sensible, organized man must look awfully tempting to Sophie when compared with her current detached purgatory. Or at least I assume it must. July barely scratches the surface of this relationship - the two of them basically size each other up and say a silent "You'll do." while Jason, for his part, remains oblivious. I'm not asking July to make Blue Valentine here, but she took the trouble to create believable characters and it is not exactly satisfying to watch them lay there like a set of matching beanbag chairs as life happens around them.
The Future is far from a disaster. July remains an interesting, offbeat, somewhat delicate presence on the screen. Hamish Linklater as Jason is new to me but if he can find a way for some charisma to peek through his dud of a character he'll do great when he gets a real part to play.
The Future even springs a great sequence on us at around the 2/3 mark involving a magical development handled with straight-faced reality by the film. The common complaint against is that indie movies like this overload on quirk, but it is it by far the most confident stretch in the movie. July avoids making it a cutesy-poo indie film stunt by grounding the magic in raw, churning emotion - the pit of the stomach realization that bad news is coming and we are way too late to stop it. It is one of the few moments in the movie where July manages to present her ideas in a strong, engaging way. The Future could have used a lot more scenes like it.
Verdict: Like I said, Miranda July may have hit upon some truth in The Future. Maybe it is more honest to have characters who are lost and directionless stay that way. But a few well-observed ideas does not a satisfying movie make. I maintain that July is a valuable artist and I look forward to her next film. But this time out she replaces the gentleness and positivity of Me and You with stultifying emptiness, and, man, is it ever a drag. 5 out of 10