By Marc Glassman
August 12, 2011
Miranda July, director, writer and lead actor
Starring: Ms. July (Sophie/voice of Paw Paw), Hamish Linklater (Jason), David Warshofsky (Marshall), Isabella Acres (Gabriella)
As The Future opens, we find ourselves watching a couple in such a profound state of paralysis that neither can summon the energy to get off the couch to get a glass of water. They are working in unfulfilling jobs: Jason gives tech support via phone to incompetent computer users and Sophie teaches dance to very little girls. Out of boredom, one suspects, they decide to declare their devotion to each other by acquiring a cat. But when they’re told that “Paw Paw” won’t be available for a month, they quietly retreat with nary a protest.
Pretty soon, they’ve both quit their jobs. Sophie decides to spend the next 30 days making 30 dances which will be placed on YouTube–but she finds herself incapable of doing even one. Jason decides to sell trees to help the environment because he sees someone else doing it right after he stops working for the computer company. Soon after, Sophie starts an affair with a man that she meets when she finds his phone number on the back of a drawing that Jason bought her.
To say that Jason and Sophie lack direction in their lives is roughly equivalent to stating that George W. Bush made a mistake in Iraq. You watch them as their relationship falls apart and find it hard to care. They don’t seem to care–until Jason finally realizes that he’s losing Sophie and in an explosive sequence of scenes, tries to hold back time. He knows that if Sophie tells him that it’s over, it really will be over. And he doesn’t want that. So he talks to the moon and, in a nearly magical moment, attempts to keep Sophie in stasis, on the floor of their bedroom.
Jason has zeroed in on the key problem in their romance. Neither can move nor accomplish anything while stuck in what has become a profoundly unsatisfactory relationship. It’s only by starting an affair that Sophie figures a way out of her predicament. Not that her new man, Marshall, is necessarily better than Jason but–at the very least–he’s different.
Miranda July, the talented director, writer and lead actor of The Future has constructed a film that plays better in your head after it’s been viewed. Writing about it or talking about it is much more fun than watching it. And that’s definitely another key problem.
It comes down to this: Ms. July finds it difficult to imagine the lives of people who aren’t artists. Stuck trying to dramatise the thoughts of Jason and Sophie, she avoids them and devotes time to monologues (that she delivers in a weird “cat voice”) on the inner life of Paw Paw, the cat. In a world where the actors Chloe Sevigny and Zooey Deschanel pass as quirky–and they are, to certain extent–there’s no doubt that the woman who is the “real deal” is none other than Ms. July.
The Future has wonderful moments. Jason suggests that he and Sophie should have a song that they can use as a signal to jog each other’s memories in case of an accident. It’s a blatantly silly idea–how can you remember a song if your memory has been shattered in an accident–but it allows Miranda July the chance to play Peggy Lee’s breathy, other worldly version of the Rogers and Hart classic “Where or When?” It may be the perfect jog-the-memory song because it was written to illustrate déjà vu.
Towards the end of the film, Gabriella, who is Marshall’s precocious young daughter, digs a large hole in the backyard of their house and insists that she’ll sleep there. Sophie is horrified while Marshall blithely accepts his daughter’s strange decision, much as he’s accepted the sudden presence of a new woman in their lives. It’s Sophie who stays awake, hugs the frightened Gaby and draws a hot bath for the now chilly young girl.
That’s the one honestly emotional moment in the film. Those of us who loved Miranda July’s first feature Me and You and Everyone We Know and her book No One Belongs Here More Than You for its genuine eccentricities can only hope that The Future is a misstep in a career that should continue to go forward.