WEBTAKES: The Future
Reviewed by Graham Fuller

Written and directed by Miranda July; produced by Gina Kwon, Roman Paul, Gerhard Meixner; cinematography by Nikolai von Graevenitz; edited by Andrew Bird; production design by Elliott Hostetter; costume design by Christie Wittenborn; music by Jon Brion; starring: Hamish Linklater, Miranda July, David Warshofsky, Isabelle Acres, Joe Putterlik. Color, 91 min. A Roadside Attractions release.

In her 2005 debut feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, which addressed the difficulties people face connecting emotionally, Miranda July depicted several adults who behave like children and several children who behave, or riskily try to behave, like adults. July’s follow-up film depicts a cohabiting couple in their mid thirties who, having attained adulthood and supposed stability, contrive a situation that leads them to abandon their adult responsibilities, damaging—perhaps destroying—their relationship in the process. In both films, which are deadpan comic dramas of social inquiry that unemotively deploy static camera set-ups and medium shots, and augment July’s work as a performance artist and short-story writer, the Internet plays a significant role.

In Me and You, July positions chatrooms as a threat to children who stray into them. In The Future, she glances at the addictiveness of channel surfing and the motives of those (young women especially) who post videos of themselves. In the new film, as in the last one, July raises more questions than she answers. She isn’t didactic or censorious, but the news isn’t good. If there’s a warning in The Future, it may be that, as mortality dawns on the early middle-aged, the issues of how one spends one life —“How do we fill our time?,” someone muses—and who one spends it with gain crisis urgency.

It is the thought of confronting life without unlimited freedom that undoes liberal, middle-class Los Angelenos Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (July). Instead of having a baby, which would confirm their commitment to one another, they hedge their bets by adopting a sick cat, Paw Paw, whose life expectancy is six months to five years, and whose scheduled pickup in a month’s time throws them into a tailspin, as if they had learned they have terminal illnesses. They decide to divest themselves of work and to stay off the Internet that month in order to fulfill themselves in meaningful ways.

Jason quits his job in technical support and effectively goes back to nature by becoming a door-to-door tree salesman for a green organization; he is sidetracked by the people he meets through PennySaver classifieds, especially an elderly man, Joe, who makes greeting cards and has written bawdy verse for his wife’s Christmas cards throughout their sixty-year marriage. (The late Joe Putterlik played himself in this role—July has described the scenes in which he appears as “sort of documentary”; she is compiling a book of thePennySaver sellers she found during research.) To his consternation, Jason sees in Joe’s apartment an M.C. Escher print and hippopotami ornaments, similar versions of which are also to be found in his and Sophie’s place. As charming as Joe is, no young man wants to find that his taste mirrors that of an eccentric octogenarian.

Sophie, meanwhile, resigns her job as a dance instructor for little girls with the goal of creating thirty dances in thirty days for her friends to watch on YouTube, though, as Jason informs her, her friends won’t want to watch them. An awkward dancer with no choreographic skills, she fails at this immediately; even her attempts at exercise are pathetic. All too easily, and because the devil finds work for idle hands, she slips into an affair with the fiftyish, very straight Marshall (David Warshofsky), a banner manufacturer who lives with his alienated nine- or ten-year-old daughter, Gaby (Isabella Acres), in a suburb. Later, she tries to get back her dance-studio job, only to be humiliated by landing in reception.

Self-consciously quirky and calculatedly listless—July’s signature tone—The Future lurches pleasingly into surrealism when Jason, sensing that Sophie is about to admit her infidelity, grasps her head and stops time. He later goes to the Pacific shore to seek spiritual advice from the Moon (voiced by Putterlik) and, since it can offer no help, pulls it into the tide. At the dance studio, Sophie encounters two pregnant friends and, in another surreal moment, fantasizes their children coming there as married adults with a child of their own (one of the mothers having died) while she remains a childless thirtysomething with the same lame job. Despite Jason’s and Sophie’s awakenings, the most existentially aware character is the ailing Paw Paw, who (voiced by July) warbles a plaintive voice-over narration.

Each lanky, mop-haired and dorky, Jason and Sophie could pass as siblings: July films them symmetrically, sitting opposite each other, knees up, on a sofa with their laptops, or facing each other on the extremities of the frame, the space between them ominously huge. Although July offers little in the way of psychology, it can be surmised from Sophie’s flight into the bed of the virile but otherwise unsuitable Marshall that the couple’s sex life has petered out during their five years together. A woman who avows that she wants to be watched, but who can’t complete her YouTube project, she finds herself in the company of an objectifying male who says he wants to watch her all the time. But having cast herself in the role of his surrogate wife—they barbecue in his back garden, she sees him off to work in the morning—Sophie rebels against her willed self-effacement. Reuniting herself with a voluminous yellow T-shirt, for all intents and purposes an asexualizing “blankie,” she climbs into it, covers her head, and finally creates the kind of subversive dance she had attempted to create earlier. It ruins Marshall’s illusion that they are soul mates, and he walks away in disgust. In simultaneously creating art and curtailing the male gaze, Sophie has freed herself to return to her real soul mate, Jason.

Unlike Me and You, however, The Future ends ambivalently, though Jason and Sophie have learned respectively that spiritual questing and diving into the first available romantic bolt-hole cannot be sustaining. They have grown—as July has as a filmmaker, one seemingly better equipped now to marry images and ideas. Playfully expressed, if serious in intent, her use of infantile scatological language, her verbal delineation of one man’s pedophiliac longing and elliptical visualizations of teenagers having oral sex unfortunately outweighed Me and You’s slowburning, central love story. In her new film, she doesn’t clog the canvas and her storytelling is consequently sharper and more potent. Six years on her, her future is still bright.

Graham Fuller has written about cinema for Sight & Sound, Film Comment, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times, among many other publications. His Website is at inalonelyplace.com.

Copyright © 2011 by Cineaste Magazine.