Miranda July’s debut feature, the wonderful Me And You And Everyone We Know (2005), currently ranks as one of my Top 10 films of the last decade. Understandably, her second venture as writer/director/star, the less cumbersomely titled The Future, was one of my festival priorities. I’d already resigned myself to the fact that it would be something of a letdown, yet I remained confident of enjoyment. How wrong a person can be. For what I discovered, upon entering NFT1 on a bright September morning, was one of the most nauseatingly self-absorbed and tirelessly pretentious films of the year. It’s in my Bottom 5. I flat-out hated it…
Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are a thirty-something couple living in LA, working jobs they hate to pay the rent on their hipster-centric apartment. In thirty days they’re due to adopt a cat named Paw Paw, and this spurs them on to the realisation that they’re growing older (“forty is basically fifty“) and life as they know it will soon come to an end. No more lounging around on Facebook, it would seem. Naturally this realisation spins time and space out of order, and all manner of kookiness begins to occur between the fracturing couple, who attempt to find meaning in life outside of each other.
The Future is a film which builds an existential crisis from the unplugging of the Internet, and that’s about the level of depth July is working from. The film is about mortality, responsibility, incapability and inevitability. It’s about hitting a brick wall and not knowing how you got there; coming to terms with the life you’ve built and wondering why you never become more. “I always thought I’d be smarter” says Jason. Sophie decides to dedicate her life to a YouTube dance. “30 days 30 dances.” Do you want to spend time with these people?
First we must establish the rules of July’s universe. The film is obviously operating on a heightened level, and to look for realism would be a fool’s errand. That’s not the point. The same was true of Me And You And Everyone We Know, which at one point paused its story to contemplate the fate of a bagged goldfish. The difference was that the heightened world in that film held an underlying truth; characters whose interactions carried weight and felt believable. It’s almost as if they had no barometer for their emotions, and spoke directly from the subconscious; the home of memory, imagination and classic movie dialogue. Those characters were forgiving and open-minded. They say things like “I was trying to save my life and it didn’t work.” Some will cringe, but I found it disarming, and most of all charming.
The Future makes use of surrealism to tell its tale, and the press notes reveal that the project was birthed from a performance piece called ‘Things We Don’t Understand And Definitely Are Not Going To Talk About‘. Examples of surrealism include Jason’s conversation with the moon and a living T-Shirt which follows Sophie to a new home. The problem is that none of this coalesces into a complete vision and the tone always feels off. The mechanics of the film are always visible onscreen, and the whole thing lacks momentum. There’s a clearly defined end-goal (the collection of Paw Paw), even marked on a frequently referenced calendar, and yet we never feel like the film is working towards anything substantial. Sub-plots arise from the most coincidental of details, and none carry depth or humour.
Am I hypocritical to mark down a film about aimlessness for being aimless? Not when the conversations are this banal and self-serving, having the nerve to discuss profound life achievements after the characters have just quit their jobs to become free spirits. Is that viable in this economy? No, but they’re quirky, so apparently it’s all fine. Talking of quirky, have I mentioned that the film is narrated by Paw Paw (voiced by July)? It’s intensely irritating but actually works as a good litmus test for if you’re likely to enjoy the film. Watch the trailer. Anyone who rolls their eyes at the cat narration would be best served by giving July’s latest a miss.
In the interest of fairness I should say that there are positives. Linklater is terrific as the mumbly, introspective Jason, and makes the most of a weak screenplay (his entire arc revolves around becoming an environmentalist). The score by Jon Brion (one of my favorite composers) is also good, as is the use of a Beach House track called ‘Master Of None‘. But honestly, if you want to listen to that, just buy the soundtrack album. It’ll be a more gratifying experience. And that’s really all I can say in the way of positives. I so wanted to love The Future, but I left the screening angry and sad. I won’t have a more disappointing experience at the London Film Festival this year.
Director: Miranda July
Writer: Miranda July
Stars: Miranda July, Hamish Linklater, David Warshofsky
Runtime: 91 min
Country: Germany, USA