Before you can assess Miranda July’s second film, The Future, it’s unfortunately necessary to wade through your feelings about Miranda July. Even if you don’t come down squarely on one side of the love-her-or-hate-her debate (and I’ve yet to meet anyone who knows who she is that doesn’t), it’s difficult to remain unaware of the heat around that very debate. Even if you’ve put on media earmuffs, it’s guaranteed that before the lights go down in the theater, someone sitting near you will be talking either about how cute she is or how much they want to smash her in the face.
That kind of buzz is valuable – it’s not easy for a filmmaker to get noticed – but it’s also crippling: Here we are in the second paragraph and I haven’t mentioned the actual film yet. And so, our plot, in which a pet delivers intimations of mortality to a childless couple: Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), identically curly-mopped and saucer-eyed, find an injured stray and take it to the emergency vet, where it must stay for a month before they adopt it. The idea of taking responsibility for a sick cat who “could live another five years” shocks them into an awareness of time that has previously escaped them – in five years, they’ll be 40, and 40 is practically 50, and 50 is almost the same thing as dead – so they decide to spend the next 30 days changing their lives. Finding meaning. Being “wild.” This does not go well.
The script is more sophisticated than it lets on at first; it takes time for July’s strangled, mucusy voice and Linklater’s gulping and gawking to stop either irritating or charming the viewer. But once the breathy wist of it all blows away, we see a different world: senile, lonely old men; blunt-faced, “down-to-fuck” middle-aged ones; rage-filled 10-year-old girls. It takes a lot of surreality to reveal the real. Yes, the magical-realist plot points and boho-cutesy sets and costumes dress up this bleak saga of anxiety and emotional paralysis. It’s easy to be distracted by the talking cat or the talking moon, but they are merely wallpaper over a yawning chasm of panic and disappointment. Once the lid is lifted off Sophie and Jason’s meandering lives, The Future gets both harder to watch and more worth watching.