Growing up, ready or not
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Aug 05, 2011
With wit and unsettling strangeness, "The Future" takes a sitcom premise - two skittish 35-year-olds adopting a sick and injured cat in order to tiptoe into the responsibilities of adulthood - and gives it a radical, otherworldly twist.
That should come as no surprise to fans of writer-director Miranda July, whose 2005 serio-comedy "Me and You and Everyone We Know" announced her as an off-kilter, visionary talent. "The Future," in which July co-stars with Hamish Linklater, proves that she's no mere one-hit wonder, although her strange hybrid of screwball humor and solemnity, transgressive sex and winsomeness will never be fodder for garden-variety cineplex-dwellers. Viewers need to be prepared to enter into July's world, which is as likely to feature a talking cat or a walking T-shirt as the more banal realities of young-middle-aged life in Los Angeles.
That's where Jason (Linklater) and Sophie (July) have been marking time for the past few years, he working in computer tech support, she teaching at a kids' dance school, "gearing up to do something really incredible" one of these days. When they find an injured cat and take him to the vet, they discover that the animal has only months to live. They name him Paw-Paw and agree to love him unconditionally until he dies. Then another vet informs them he could linger for years, throwing the commitment-averse couple into an immediate emotional crisis. If Paw-Paw lives for five years, Sophie notes that they'll be 40 when he dies. "Forty is basically 50," Jason says, quietly panicking. "And then after 50, the rest is just loose change."
Such is the subtle, off-handed humor that infuses "The Future," where irony and earnestness vie mightily for psychic pride of place as Jason and Sophie plunge into separate but equally alien worlds to stave off their encroaching anxieties. It's possible to see "The Future" as part of a diptych with "Beginners," which also came out this summer and was made by July's real-life husband, Mike Mills. Both films possess carefully curated visual styles, protagonists who are terrified of embarking and enough confidence to include a talking animal without winking. But "The Future" is the scarier, darker film by far, with July exploring Sophie's most predatory feline instincts with unblinking and even brave frankness.
"The Future" also taps into a remarkable cinematic theme this year having to do with parallel universes and alternate realities - most explored recently in "Another Earth" and featured in Lars von Trier's upcoming "Melancholia." July's background as a performance artist clearly informs her portrayal of Sophie, from her impromptu dancerly stretches to an amusing riff on feeling stymied while friends mature and have families of their own. But with "The Future" she makes good on the promise of "Me and You and Everyone We Know," proving that she's a bona fide filmmaker, of real ambition and scope. What does "The Future" hold? Wonders, each of them weirder and more unnerving than the last.
Contains some sexual content.