Miranda July follows up her lovely and deft first-time film (and 2005 Palm D’Or winner at Cannes) “Me, You and Everyone We Know” with “The Future,” opening today in limited release. The film strikingly asks these timeless questions: What happens to your soul if you fail to recognize your deepest longings? Will having a child change our lives/make me old/limit my possibilities forever? Can we live without ever having really lived at all, without truly giving our life a genuine “shot?” And of course, July being July, she uses some wholly original, courageous, and in the end, sweetly child-like and charming ways of getting us to hear them in her new film.
July gets consistently pegged “The Queen of Quirk” in the mainstream media, which does her an astonishingly huge disservice, I think. As the recent “NY Times Magazine” cover story recently pointed out about her films, stories, online video projects and performance art (July is a bit of a Renaissance Wonder Woman), no one is ever really, well, “cool” in her work. Her “oddball” exteriors are forever pulsing with a heartbeat both very real and very raw and human. But, back to the film.
“The Future” centers around an adorable, symbiotic, mid-Thirties couple in their thrift-shop chic (and very small) Silverlake apartment. Hamish Linklater plays Jason, the boyfriend, and July herself stars as Sophie, his pale, pretty girl with Manet coloring, enormous eyes and sweetheart wardrobe. They are a protypical, “unrealized” LA creative couple. Jason even goes so far as to lament their deadly age of thirty-five, complaining that everything that happens to them after that is “loose change.”
The film opens with a talking cat’s voice-over narrative. The voice is July’s, but the narrative belongs solely to Paw-Paw, the sick cat they are heroically rescuing from the pound. The catch is that the poor feline will need their complete and total attention, much like, you guessed it, having one’s first baby would demand. The couple have one month to make their lives and abode ready for Paw Paw, one month, they reason to themselves, to realize their dreams and live up to their fullest, best potential!
Sophie decides to do a “dance a day,” and put it up daily on YouTube. She quits her job as a dance instructor to three-year olds. Jason ditches his job as an Internet trouble-shooter, and starts fundraising on the streets for a Greenpeace-type of organization.
In a matter of days, the two lovers are jointly miserable and immobilized- plainly paralyzed by the ominous thought of Paw Paw coming into their lives, and the fact that they do not have a real, concrete blueprint, or even sketchy plan, of which to follow their own dreams. They also are filled with accompanying self-loathing and doubt about their creative and overall human abilities- to the point where Sophie decides to have an affair with a bland but grown-up Marshall, (David Washofsky) who lives in the dreaded Valley with his younger daughter.
Jason, in utter desperation and completely beside himself with grief at the break-up, decides to “stop time” in a nifty magical realism touch, and Sophie literally watches her life slipping away from her, getting her job back (but only as a receptionist there- watching her students grow up while she’s still there, answering the phones), and watching her soul trail after like a kicked, wounded dog- in the form of an old, frayed, favorite T-shirt.
It is easy to see, on one level, why critics like Hoberman from “the Village Voice” have such a problem with a July. Her clothes, look and demeanor simply seem too cute, precious and, inaccurately, calculating, to many. But her halo of “quirkiness” is really like strawberry sauce spilled across a telegram announcing some very profound news
Having seen “Me, You and Everyone We Know” and read her wonderful book of short stories, “No One Belongs Here More Than Me,” as well as loosely following some of her on-line projects, like the endearing, viewer-collaborative “Learning to Love You More,” I truly feel that her art provides what is sourly and desperately missing from our culture in this day and age: A genuine purity of heart. It does not appear to be a shtick with July, or to be a ploy at some form of elitist, backhanded irony. She really does give a shit. If you look past her lustrously indie demeanor, you can feel her own heart beating louder than anything. July wants us all to know that time IS running out. That being scared is understandable, but, not really such an option any longer. That love may fade and things can drastically change, but life will be supportive, if you can find a way to move on and forward with it.
July is also an artist fortunate enough to have only worked, her entire life at doing the things she truly loves: Making things for others to see and experience. By her own admission, she has never had to have a “real” job. She did not come from money, and most like worked very hard, and privately, to achieve the things that she has. She is only imagining herself, here in “The Future,” as if she had not been so fortunate. Yet, at the very time, the film is a sweet, nurturing call to arms to heed that little (or Big!) voice inside us all- whether it’s whispering at us to “Have that Baby!” or screaming at us to “Write That Book!”
As “The Future” leaps from a soul that won’t let up until it’s found again, a talking Moon, and poor Paw Paw, conscripted to never find what she really and truly needs, July is daring us to push ourselves to reach a little further- lest we die a pretty banal, boring, and terribly unfulfilled psychic death. Life is Short, “The Future” reminds us. And it will all, sort of, somehow be okay. If we try as hard as we are able to try, at any given moment. The Future Has Been Predicted. Now go out and see the movie!