Directed by: Miranda July
Written by: Miranda July (screenplay)
Starring: Miranda July, Hamish Linklater, David Warshofsky and Isabella Acres
What happens to hipsters when they get old? The writer/director/actress Miranda July would argue that there is not a true answer to that question, but it’s just a rather interesting one to ask. In The Future, she ponders the existence of Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), two similar looking thirty-somethings on the brink of the end. They have decided to adopt a cat, which they can take home from the shelter in one month. This is a big decision for them.
In the meantime, the couple realize (after a couple of logical jumps) that this is their last true month of living. Though the cat is likely to live only six months because of its illness, it could live as long as five years. By then, they will be forty, and of course it’s all downhill from there.
July has made a movie about characters that we would be forced to sympathize with in most indie movies. Jason cares about the environment, Sophie teaches dance lessons to young kids and dresses like Zooey Deschanel. By the end, though, they are decidedly unlikeable and, thankfully, evolve out of their initial cliches. The Future’s awkward humor and off-kilter tone evolve into a movie with quite a bit on its mind.
Crippling indecision seems to plague every facet of their lives in this final month. In one of the funnier moments, there’s a knock on the door. Terrified at the prospect of having to interact or do anything, Sophie tells Jason not to get it. It’s a very simple moment, but also a good example of how the screenplay walks the tightrope between farce and sympathy.
July constantly walks tightropes in The Future. She wrote Sophie some remarkably despicable things to do, yet she plays her with tremendous sincerity. The entirety of The Future is either a love letter or hate mail to its title. July’s real-life husband Mike Mills wrote this year’s break-out indie hit Beginners, a film that tackles similar themes in a much narrower, more concrete spectrum of positivity.
Beginners is a decidedly more accessible film for many reasons. Both films have animals (a dog in Beginners) that express human thoughts. The cat (more specifically a close-up of its paws) in The Future is cut to on several occasions to narrate what it’s like to wait for an owner to come pick you up. These narrations are heady stuff, and also mirrored by Sophie’s attempt to find a place to fit in during the movie.
This bizarre journey is filmed as if it were all taking place on an alien world. Its aesthetics are one of its greatest strengths by far. There is a delightfully bizarre narrative detour toward the end, where time freezes right as Jason and Sophie are either going to break up or continue talking after he finds out she has cheated on him. He imagines her life with this other man as it keeps cutting back to him while the clock stays at 3:14 a.m.
From there the movie finds itself somewhat back on the traditional narrative path, though that narrative exists solely for these kinds of musings. Later, Sophie finds herself working at the front desk of her dance studio. Her friends stop in to say hello, but it doesn’t remain that simple for long. The friends talk about their pregnancies at first, but then time continues to progress and their children are grown up beside them and eventually those teenagers are there with children of their own; all while Sophie stays in the same place. It’s a terrific visual expression of the film’s overall message.
It’s initially hard to warm up to The Future because at first it seems like it will be an unbearably quirky indie film with no real purpose. In actuality, it plays as a welcome yin to the Beginners’ yang; a film where the females are more than Freudian symbolism and the mystifying answers to life’s “big” questions end up being irrelevant in the wake of such weirdness. The acting in July’s film may not be as warm and appealing as her husband’s endeavor, but she softens that blow with her extraterrestrial filming style and conceptual wit. Her characters may be stuck at the end of their honeymoon phase, but she is no beginner.