Miranda July’s directorial style represents the best and the worst of what the American indie cinema has to offer. There is the corny, over the top and at the same time dull story-telling which she manages to combine with a masterful, daunting study of human behaviour. The lack of an appropriate balance of these two ingredients is what kept her first feature film Me, You and Everyone We Know from expanding outside its comfort zone and becoming something more than a mediocre flick. It goes without saying that I was slightly apprehensive when going to see her latest film, The Future. While hoping that I would be nicely surprised, I was definitely prepared for the worst.
And yet again, what I got was a mix of both; some aspects of the film truly disappointed while the others made me extremely excited. The disappointing parts are a result of Miranda’s choice to assign her dramatic arc to a semi-comedy formula. Every time the film takes an emotional plunge into the depths of the human psyche, July very quickly brings it back to the surface with comic relief, assuming that her audience won’t be able to stand the pressure should the film get too serious. She talks in her film about displeasure with life, an inability to control our fate and sexual desires. But July very forcefully tries to balance these issues with situational farce which to me, not only belittles the importance of the portrayed matters but suggests that the dramatic aspects of our existence aren’t entertaining enough for a film.
The starting point of the film is when Sophie (July) and Jason (Linklater) decide to adopt a cat. They see that as a very important step in their relationship, a commitment that requires long time sacrifices from both of them. Their new pet must undergo surgery and it takes an additional month before they can bring it home with them. They take advantage of that convenient ‘delay’ and they decide to re-evaluate their lives and find out what to do with their future. Their process of discovery is juxtaposed with a commentary of Paw-Paw, their newly adopted cat who longingly looks forward to the moment when the couple will come back to take him home. Paw-Paw sets a rather sad, sentimental tone for the story, and is probably the nicest feature of the entire film. As he looks through the bars of his cage, counting down minutes and seconds to the fulfilling moment of becoming a part of his new family, we see Jason and Sophie turning into prisoners of their own desires.
The two quit their jobs and undertake activities that are supposed to enrich their existence and bring happiness. But breaking with the routine pulls the couple away from each other as it brings a scary realisation that they are no longer bound by any expectations from the outside world. The feeling of freedom makes them happy for a while, but in the long run brings a terrifying awareness that they lack any ambition. With the extra time on her hands, Sophie begins an affair with Paw-Paw’s ex-owner, and Jason spends his days talking to a randomly met older man who treats him to stories about his dead wife. Sophie’s eccentric behaviour is the cause of her affair falling apart in the end, and Jason is too scared to face the reality of a break-up and literally freezes time in order to avoid confrontation.
With her use of surreal aesthetics in the final moments of the film July stumbles upon something spectacular but it positively takes her far too much time to get to that point. Although charmed by Paw-Paw’s voiceover and the ending sequences, I found myself mostly disinterested by July’s slow and safe narration preceding the final scenes. The characters doom their happiness by constant longing for the future. Similarly to that, July hangs her film’s potential for greatness somewhere towards the end, but that promise seems too far in the future for someone who doesn’t find the first two-thirds of the film engaging enough to care about the characters’ fate.