In her various incarnations as screenwriter, fiction writer and artist, Miranda July has demonstrated a preoccupation with the less-trodden paths of human connection. Take her debut film, Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), which saw a middle-aged man kick off a sexual relationship with two teenagers via signs in the window. Or consider the now archived web project, Learning to Love You More, which assigned community-minded art projects to any willing takers (43. Make an exhibition of the art in your parent’s house. 15. Hang a windchime on a tree in a parking lot.).
So it’s no surprise that July’s new film, The Future, which she wrote, directed and stars in, also draws wiggly lines between the dots. Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) desultorily while away their days, tapping away at laptops and shifting to get comfy on the couch. Their apartment has the feel of having accidentally become a home: piles of cassette tapes are stacked in almost precarious towers, while succulents and coloured stockings proliferate in their respective corners.
This familiarity is neck-and-neck with a gently surging discontent. Sophie, a dance teacher, compulsively rewatches a colleague’s popular YouTube dance video and dreams up her own choreography, while Jason mourns the way his life has plateaued. To ward off the inexorable pull of their future, they decide to adopt a pet, an injured cat named Paw Paw. It’s likely that Paw Paw will die soon, probably within five years: ‘Then we can do whatever we want for the rest of our lives.’ But they’ll be 40 years old in five years, they realise: ‘And then after 50, the rest is just loose change.’
Paw Paw is the hinge on which many viewers’ opinions will swing. Thanks to a tremulous, high-register July voiceover, the cat talks. While waiting in the animal shelter for Sophie and Jason to collect him, Paw Paw mewls intimate, often saccharine, monologues of hope, but his uneasy relationship with time and uncertainty is touchingly explored in these interludes.
For Sophie, time’s getaway act drives her towards another life. She begins an affair with a single father, Marshall (David Warshofsky). Jason takes up a door-to-door job, selling trees. He browses the PennySaver, a classifieds paper, and buys a hairdryer from Joe (Joe Putterlik, whom July actually met through the PennySaver), who writes dirty limericks for his wife. When Sophie begins to tell Jason about her infidelity, he finds he can freeze but not stop time, and he does. But to what avail? Sophie’s life is continuing outside his bubble of denial.
This is a couple whose meandering divergence can be slow and frustrating. They’re wishful but feckless, misguidedly attempting to change their lives. But what makes them sympathetic rather than enraging is that they’re not druggedly drowsy or uncaring – they seem stunned, as if they had been clocked one when they were born and never really recovered. It’s a fine line to tread, and it’s to the credit of Linklater and July that it’s possible to root for Sophie and Jason in their struggles. They’re not virtuoso performances – July’s delivery of dialogue can be distractingly deliberate – but the dynamic between the two is interesting; there isn’t so much a chemistry between the two leads as a kind of parallel travellerhood.
The Future is rewarding cinema, giving you much more than what your loose change might be worth. There’s an originality to many of the film’s gestures, making it read more like an invested attempt to recreate a very particular feeling than a run-of-the-mill couple drama. The film’s organic emotionality is surprisingly tenacious and moving: July’s wayward thirtysomethings fumble their connections so badly only because they mean something.
The Future is on limited release at Cinema Nova. Image © 2010 Razor Film Produktion GmbH and Leopold, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Estelle Tang is Online Editor at Kill Your Darlings.