I had really high hopes for The Future — maybe too high. (Is this a review or my diary? Sigh.) July’s writing-directing debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, is one of my favorite films of all time. In that film, the whimsical earnestness that is July’s signature was tempered by a self-critical realism and a willful eccentricity that rescued it from having its twee head inextricably up its own twee butt. The Future covers many of the same themes as Me and You: the struggle for emotional courage, the causal relationship between self-destruction and artistic impotence, the acute confusion surrounding rituals and milestones that plagues the young (kids to thirtysomethings). And, like its predecessor, July’s sophomore work contains many striking, original images and frequent laugh-out-loud jokes. But despite its strengths — and there are a great many of them — it’s overly precious and distractingly solipsistic, and I feel about it as noncommittal as the main characters are to each other.
The Future centers on an aimless thirtysomething couple that’s waiting to adopt a cat, but possibly falling apart from the pressure of future cat ownership. I don’t believe that all protagonists have to be necessarily likable or sympathetic, but I found this pair and their terrified reaction to their “dilemma” eye-rollingly, unbearably pathetic. I get it: the cat’s their pre-baby baby, this shit (their lives, their relationship) just got real, etc. Whatever. (As a twentysomething who just adopted a dog with her boyfriend of two years, I understand their situation perfectly. And I’m gonna judge.) The impending cat adoption becomes a catalyst for his-and-hers mid-life crises. In a hilariously pathetic scene, the two reinforce each other’s panic about their rapidly diminishing possibilities, the film playfully reminding us that the present always feels urgent, significant and wasted compared to the future that awaits us all: old age, infirmity, death.
It’s at this point that the film briefly veers into The Bucket List for the hipster set: the two quit their boring, unsatisfying jobs and pursue their goals: he’ll save the earth, she’ll perform 30 dances in 30 days. (I’ve referred to the main characters until now as “the couple,” “the pair,” and “the two” deliberately, as they hardly deserve any differentiation between them. Both are white, lanky, voluntarily poor, and owners of bad wigs (those have to be wigs, right?) and voices that suggest they’re afraid of talking. They’re also both Miranda July.) Soon enough, the pair’s initial exuberance gives into near despair. Furtively and with much shame, each quits his/her project, and through some roundabout way connects with a lonely older man, Boy-Miranda July with a tinkering widower, Girl-Miranda July with a divorcee with a secret sleazy side.
The events thereafter are so poignantly bittersweet and the questions asked by them so thought-provoking that I’m reminded now, in the middle of writing, how much I delighted in watching the unpredictable plot unfurl. Boy- and Girl-Miranda Julys grapple with their serendipity curdling into betrayal, but the film doesn’t so easily assign blame. As the writer-director, July makes an interesting analogy between animal domestication and sexual monogamy and orchestrates an amazing fantasy sequence involving the un-stopping of time. As with most films, how you’ll feel about The Future depends on what you make of its abrupt and open ending. Tonally, it’s an entirely appropriate conclusion, yet I couldn’t help feeling that it was also a narrative cop-out.
But let’s go back to the cat. Of all the film’s faults, the cat voiceover(!) is the most heinous. (For the record, the second most heinous is July’s expressive but utterly graceless dancing in the film. It was extremely believable that her character never became a sensation in the dance world.) July actually achieved the near-impossible by writing the part of Paw-Paw the cat quite well; she’s a well-rounded character who undergoes a satisfying narrative arc. But July’s irritating voiceover performance and the surprisingly cheap-looking cat puppet become sideshows of twee that distract from her strong writing. Watching The Future, I kept hoping that July would balance out all that preciousness with just a bit more gravitas. Maybe she should’ve taken notes on how to have a too-charming couple and a talking animal without sacrificing seriousness by watching her husband’s latest film.