Friday, August 12, 2011

The Future

At the center of Miranda July's appeal is a contradiction. In my opinion, she's a far stronger actress than writer or director. However, I feel it would be strange, almost not right, to see her performing in anything except for works that she herself has created. If only the two sides of the equation could fit together. "The Future" at certain points gets close to equilibrium, but doesn't succeed in the end due to a problematic lack of cohesion and a dreadful opening half. For me, "Me and You and Everyone We Know," her essentially unwatchable but bizarrely beloved first film, is the beginning of this movie blown up to feature length. Luckily, as the film progresses, July touches on issues and concepts that illuminate the film as a whole and prevent it from being as awful as its predecessor, but when she does, it's too late (ironically enough, when you consider the subject of the film).

The film is framed around the adoption of an injured cat named Paw-Paw (to whom July gives a scratchy voice) by two unhappily employed people, Sophie (July as well) and Jason (Hamish Linklater). They want to do more with their lives, but they feel they should do their part and bring this cat to live with them. That means having their freedom drastically cut (to roughly a month, when they are scheduled to pick the cat up), as the cat could live for a long time and, when it dies, could leave them stranded past the halfway mark in their own lives.

This constraint seems to be a liberation of sorts, as both quit their jobs and strive to do something: Sophie undertaking a project known as "30 Days 30 Dances," Jason trying to sell trees and save the earth as part of a small environmental operation. But ultimately, the constraint sort of disappears, as Sophie grows frustrated and bored with her web series (it doesn't really go anywhere) and goes off on a different tangent and Jason tries to hang on to their semblance of a life while maintaining the idea that everything's gone anyways.

The film includes a few elements of the surreal, such as the moon talking (pessimistically) and Jason's ability to stop time, which seems like a folly (everyone's pretending at first) until it actually takes effect. This mood of spontaneity both helps and hurts the film, as it leads the action into interesting territory but also ends up undermining the emotional impact, as it feels like there's no center holding things together.

But it must be said that the film's strong second half is devastating, quite probably because one cannot see it coming from the beginning. It shows that people settle into different roles as time passes and ultimately inhabit them for good, eventually feeling like they've always held them, even if at one point the idea of doing so would seem incredibly crazy or sad. That's something. If July 1) had made the opening feel like more than just a tedious setup and 2) had more fully realized her theses, a piercing film could have resulted. Instead, she juggles a bunch of plots (as she's done before), only getting little bits of gold out of each. C

Note: Despite the objections I find with her work, I still think July is superb at naming her films. However, though "The Future" is a great, intriguing title, when all is said and done, "Satisfaction," her working title, fits much better.

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