(Reviewed July 29, 2011, by James Dawson)
Director/writer/actor Miranda July's second feature "The Future" is a fascinatingly strange, occasionally funny and unexpectedly unsettling portrait of an aimless couple who quit their jobs to spend a month seeking creative and spiritual fulfillment. That may sound like the set-up for an artsy-indie love note to bored 30-something slackers who haven't "found themselves," but the movie turns out to be a thoughtful, clever and bittersweet must-see that's also a little eerie.
Children's dance teacher Sophie (July) hopes to come up with some original moves she can upload to YouTube that will be as popular as videos posted by a smug former coworker. Her boyfriend Jason (Hamish Linklater) prefers letting fate guide him to a destiny he expects to discover by remaining alert and receptive.
They take their month of me-time because that's how long they have to wait before adopting an injured cat they took to an animal shelter. Like expectant parents, they think these may be their last responsibility-free days. They also have a premature sense of their encroaching mortality. As Jason matter-of-factly points out, "We'll be 40 in five years. Forty is basically 50, and after that it's just loose change." In a deadpan moment that sums up her ambivalent self-esteem, Sophie says, "I wish I was just one notch prettier. I'm right on the edge, where people have to decide for themselves."
July's low-key 2005 romantic comedy "Me and You and Everyone We Know" had a similarly offbeat sense of humor, but was based entirely in the real world. "The Future" is partially narrated by the hospitalized cat, features an extended dialog with the moon and includes a long dark night of the soul when time stops for Jason while it races ahead for Sophie. A rambling, elderly eccentric named Joe (Joe Putterlik) is simultaneously so gosh-darn normal yet indescribably "off" he could have stepped out of a David Lynch movie.
Like Lynch's "Mulholland Drive," "The Future" focuses on a woman who retreats into another identity because she hasn't achieved her artistic ambition and resents someone who has. So unsatisfied with her awkward attempts at web-worthy choreography that she becomes paralyzed by self-doubt, Sophie escapes into an affair with a suburban single dad (David Warshofsky).
"The Future"'s weirdness is balanced with enough genuine heart that it's impossible not to care about timidly anxious Sophie and the increasingly emotional Jason. Plus you don't have to be a cat person to be touched by the plight of Paw Paw, waiting forlornly in a newspaper-lined cage to be taken home. Every shot of Paw Paw after the first shows only the cat's pantomime-expressive front legs, one of which is in a white cast. Paw Paw's voiceover (by July, sounding a lot like Harry Potter's Moaning Myrtle) is alternately forlorn and amusing, such when the cat describes its earlier life as being about only three things: "alive, not alive, and bird."
With affecting insights about love, identity, the creative process and the tyranny of time that are as haunting as a lingering dream, "The Future" is one of the best movies of the year.
Back Row Reviews Grade: A