Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On DVD: "The Future"

People do not respond mildly to the work of Miranda July. Some find her a remarkable and unique voice; others find her films intolerable, overly mannered and self-conscious. I suspect that part of the reason that she evokes such fierce reactions is that people aren't quite sure what to make of her--her films (The Future is the long-awaited follow-up to her breakthrough picture, Me and You and Everyone We Know) are so unlike anything we've seen before that we don't have a pre-conditioned response to them to call up. In seeing other movies, we respond fairly quickly to elements we recognize and like (or dislike), and that sets the table for the rest of our experience--which may or may not upset those expectations, but they at least provide a starting point. July's films defy categorization. We don't know what the hell they are. On the film's IMDb page, the recommendations ("if you enjoy this title, our database also recommends") are: The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the Robert Redford/Jennifer Lopez vehicle An Unfinished Life, the Meryl Streep romantic comedy Prime, the LGBT Muslim documentary A Jihad for Love, and the Ben Kingsley made-for-TV biblical drama Joseph. That's random even for IMDb recommendations. They can't figure out what box to put her in either.

Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) live together in L.A. Before the film begins, they find an injured stray cat and take it to a vet; when the cat is well, in about a month, they can adopt it. The scene in which this information sets off a kind of "pre-life crisis" has a wonderfully funny circular logic: once they get the cat, they have to be responsible for it, and even though it's sick, it could last another five years. Then they'll be forty. Once you're forty, you might as well be fifty, and it's all "loose change" from there. So really, when they think about it, they've got a month before their "real life" begins. They quit their jobs.

They both feel like they should take the opportunity to do things, try things, explore their potential. Jason insists, "I've been gearing up to do something really incredible for the last... 15 years." She insists that they switch off their Internet; there's a funny scene where their service is about to shut off, and they're trying to make use of it in the interim ("Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year..." "Don't look that up! Look up things that are only online!"). It's a little hard to get at what their relationship is, especially when she takes up with Marshall (David Warshofsky), the artist of a pencil drawing that Jason bought impulsively at the animal shelter.

It would be tempting to call her relationships with Jason or Marshall odd, but then all of the relationships are odd. Everything in the film, pretty much, is odd--and what of it? Her films stake out their claim in a territory of their own making; some of the events are wholly inexplicable, but we're never uncertain of them, because July isn't. She's entirely earnest, as a filmmaker and a performer, and in the hands of some this'd be insufferable hipster claptrap (and some may think it is anyway). But there's no ironic detachment, no condescending to hers or the other characters.

The quiet story comes to an unexpectedly profound head in the third act, when July's screenplay drives right up to a giant fork, and uses that moment as a pivot point that she keeps returning to. Without giving anything away, at that turning point she's dealing with some giant stuff, but simply and elegantly--and she spins the narrative off into a rather bold direction that almost dips into science fiction, but in a way that's neither a gimmick nor a cheat.

The Future is a strange and occasionally difficult film--again, so entirely off the map as to challenge our assumptions and reactions, which we may not entirely trust, during or after. But I think it's brilliant. I'm pretty sure about that.

"The Future" is out today on DVD.

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