I totally love Miranda July. I love her quirky comedy, I love her short stories with achingly drawn lesbian tendencies, I love her Pacific Northwest friendships with Carrie Brownstein and Khaela Maricich of The Blow. I’m one of those fans who thinks July, who claims she hasn’t needed a day job to support her since she was twenty-three, can do no wrong.
And there’s plenty of opportunities to do wrong when you make a film that includes a giant talking cat, a womb-like shirt dance, a questionable affair with someone who’s balding, a three-dollar hairdryer, and the existential crisis of two thirty somethings. All of these things are elements of July’s latest film, The Future, but guess what? She does it. Haters gonna hate, but July is doing some brilliant stuff in the medium of film and storytelling, and with recording our modern internet-driven, love-seeking lives. In a story that could fall into the abyss of the absurd, there’s humor, insight, compassion and awe. Skeptics, beware: July totally pulls it all off.
It’s a side-step away from the more universal warmth of her first film, Me And You and Everyone We Know, which, by title alone, invites the audience to feel connected. The Future is a film that grew out of a life performance piece July created in 2009, which included audience as cast members, the giant talking cat, and a slew of other July-isms. When it was all said and done, though, what July was most drawn to was the story.
Sophie and Jason, a couple in their thirties, have agreed to adopt a rescue cat. But this seemingly benign decision becomes the catalyst for Sophie and Jason to remake themselves. They both quit their day jobs to search for their true purpose in life — Sophie locks herself in their apartment in an attempt to create a dance performance for YouTube; Jason hopes to find his calling as a door to door tree salesman. It’s this heartbreaking comedy, matched with July’s precise talent, that makes the film so endearing. Every word, moment, character and transition in this film is scripted to perfection. There’s no waste, no excess. In July’s gifted dialogue and character construction, she crosses from the tender to the absurdly comic to the truth. It’s hard to not identify with some part of her mirror of life.
But what could be just a portrait of everyday quirk turns on a dime to become a moving narrative of how we find purpose in life on earth. What’s it mean to create in the face of fear? What’s it mean to wait for other people to define you? What does it mean to trust in the ongoing blanket of time, seemingly without end or horizon?
Sophie takes up with an older man while Jason begins to consider their long term future. And a slight joke in the first minutes of the film — Jason tells Sophie he can stop time, and puts up a hand at which they both freeze, pretending indeed that time has stopped — later leads to a beautiful climax. Jason actually halts time in the moment before Sophie makes a confession, then wanders a perfectly still Los Angeles in search of how to bring on the next moment in his life.
And here’s something that we don’t always see in film, or don’t always find in film so flawlessly woven into the characters’ narrative: July is a master of magical realism. In less talented hands, the moments of the absurd—a rescue cat’s monologue, a frozen ocean pulled into motion, an object of safety slinking across neighborhoods — would be laughable in an embarrassing way. But July does it. You’re smirking at Sophie’s beloved yellow shirt crawling across the asphalt, but you’re also completely convinced that Sophie can’t bear for it to find her in the new life she’s trying on for size.
Even if you find July’s aesthetic too precious for it’s own good (and this film won’t be everyone’s cup of tea), it’s worth pointing out that this is a golden opportunity to go out to the theaters and support a woman director/writer who’s calling her own shots. And as noted in a recent New York Times article, while July gets dismissed for making films that are twee and absurd, men with similar aesthetic, like Wes Anderson, get praised as genius. Here’s a chance to support a woman who’s making her own way in the world of indie film and art, without compromise. It’s the sort of future that’s worth getting behind.
Check out the trailer for The Future below.