‘The Future’ not bright in Miranda July’s quirky comedy

2011-10-28T09:00:00Z ‘The Future’ not bright in Miranda July’s quirky comedyROB THOMAS | 77 Square | rthomas@madison.com | @robt77 madison.com

If there isn't an entry yet for Miranda July films on the Stuff White People Like blog, there will be eventually. July's two films, 2005's "Me and You and Everyone We Know" and now "The Future," seem like essential hipster canon, with their half-funny, half-cryptic murmured dialogue, understated surrealism, and dreamy indie pop soundtrack.

Many viewers, especially her detractors, can't see the forest for the twee in July's films. That's certainly true of "The Future" — but burrow down past the creepy-cutesy touches (like the fact that the movie is narrated by an injured cat), and you find a film that's painfully real.

July and Hamish Linklater play Sophie and Jason, a youngish couple living in amiable squalor in a Los Angeles apartment. Sophie teaches dance classes for young girls, while Jason does tech support out of the apartment, but their main avocation seems to be not doing much of anything. They seem perfectly happy living quiet and uneventful lives, until they decide to adopt an injured cat named Paw-Paw from the humane society.

The cat can't come home from the animal hospital for another month, and the thought of taking care of another living creature at first exhilarates, and then terrifies the couple. Panicked that responsibility will mark the end of their shot at doing something meaningful with their lives, they take desperate measures to make up for over 30 years of aimlessness in one month. Jason gets a job selling trees door to door to combat global warming, while Sophie plans to invent a different dance each day for 30 days, and then post them on YouTube.

But then, not many grand plans for a meaningful life include the phrase "and then post them on YouTube." At heart, this is a film about people in their 30s who have achieved a perfect, directionless stasis, and are frightened to move in any direction. At one point, Sophie wrongs someone else, and is told that she'll have to either tell the truth, or lie to the wronged party. "Oh, no," she responds. "I could never do either of those things." And the third option is?

"The Future" is full of little absurdist touches, like the little girl who digs a foxhole in her backyard and sleeps in it, and the fact that Jason discovers he can stop time with a wave of his hand. But these off-kilter moments, at first witty, also kind of get under your skin as the movie progresses.

Like that cat. The first couple of times that the cat (voiced by July) talks, you smirk. But as the cat keeps talking, expressing a bottomless need for security and love that it thinks will be filled by this hapless couple, it becomes kind of unsettling and even a little poignant.

Binding together all these strange elements are two strong performances by July and Linklater that aren't in the least arch or precious. Together, they build a convincing long-term relationship, built on little in-jokes and shared enthusiasms, that succeeds because it's never really been tested. And, when it's tested, they're both surprised how quickly it can be torn to shreds.

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