In The Future, Miranda July Grows Up

Is there such thing as a sincerely calculated naïveté? Or put another way, does Miranda July have any idea of how annoying she is?

On the basis of The Future, writer/filmmaker/performance artist July's second feature, I'd guess that she must. A fabricator of her own screen image, July—the high priestess of quirk—has a lineage that can be traced back to art-world pop star Laurie Anderson to muscular mind-tripper Yvonne Rainer to the original psychodramatist, Maya Deren. Even more than Anderson, July is an unabashed cutie-pie, seemingly determined to play the eternal permanently precocious ingénue. At the same time, The Future hints at a degree of ironic self-awareness on the part of the 37-year-old artist unimaginable in Deren, Rainer, and even Anderson.

One minute into The Future, an arch, scratchy little voice attributed to Paw Paw the cat, but unmistakably belonging to the filmmaker, poses the question, "Have you ever been outside?" Seldom have I felt so directly addressed. The urge to bolt the screening room was overwhelming. July's first feature, the irritating yet hard-to-hate 2005 Camera d'Or winner Me and You and Everyone We Know, began in similar fashion and, among other things, concerned a goofy, earnest video artist (July) in romantic pursuit of a divorced shoe salesman. The Future revisits a similar situation from a somewhat different perspective.

The kids grow up: Adults July and Linklater
Roadside Attractions
The kids grow up: Adults July and Linklater

Jason (Hamish Linklater, known to Shakespeare in the Park patrons for some memorable clowning) and Sophie (July), a somewhat depressed, marginally droll, eminently swattable couple of early thirtysomethings, tiff and riff around their Los Angeles apartment, feasting on minor misunderstandings and imagining their dotage. A wide-eyed space child with a pale, Pre-Raphaelite quality, Sophie teaches modern dance to three-year-olds. This wistful, tentative, somewhat wilted flower is not without her mystery: Is she an intentionally comic character? Is her morning salutation ("Hi, person") meant to be charming? Jason, who does computer-tech support from home, has a bird's-nest hairdo and an even more frightened look on his face. More than symbiotic, they're virtual twins who have resolved to change their life together by adopting a cat—in fact, a problem cat with a questionable future.

Paw Paw will require total care. The expectant couple will have to wait a month for her and, if they change their mind, the kitty will be put down. In preparation for Paw Paw, Sophie and Jason quit their jobs. She resolves to create a new dance to post on YouTube every day; he resolves to help save the planet, going door to door soliciting money for the Greenpeace-like Tree by Tree. (They also decide to terminate their Internet connection, which triggers a flurry of last-minute Googling and complicates Sophie's project.) Meanwhile, we are privy to grateful Paw Paw's consciousness—she's patiently waiting and even counting the days.

The Future is transparently a movie about having a child, as well as about being one. Thwarted in her dance-a-day project, Sophie awkwardly seduces a 50-ish single dad. Marshall (David Warshofsky) is even clumsier than Jason and no less dull, but at least he's a "man," with a home in the Valley and a six-year-old daughter named Gabriella. Sophie seems to be enjoying her childlike affair—she's slightly more animated, and somewhat better-looking when with Marshall. She is even able to establish a fragile connection with Gabriella, who has busied herself digging a grave in the backyard. (Jason, meanwhile, quits his idealistic new job in despair and plaintive Paw Paw, still dreaming of her new life, imagines the letter she would write to her prospective owners—if she could write.)

The movie's final act is complicated by a metaphoric toy chest of New Age tropes (a Sophie doppelgänger in the form of an enchanted T-shirt; an elderly, advice-giving man in the moon), as well as sundry parallel worlds, alternate lives, and second personalities. July is something of a magician, and somewhere amid the inability to stop time, the finality of unborn children, the failure to protect posterity, the end of romantic love, the limitations of memory, the routine of carelessness, and the futility of expectations, Sophie's (or is it July's?) coy narcissism becomes a criticism of itself, and her "sadness" turns into something truly sad. In short, I have seen The Future and it's heartbreaking.

jhoberman@villagevoice.com

 
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20 comments
Ann Contois
Ann Contois

I only watched about 1/3 of the way into the movie, having become increasingly convinced that these two lackluster narcissists would never get their lives together enough to go rescue PawPaw before he was due to be euthanized. I see from the above comments, that I was correct.

These vapid, unlikeable human characters are so totally entangled in their own narrow universe, it is not surprising that they failed to venture into reality long enough to even do something as simple as to rescue and love a kitty in need.

PawPaw brought more life, love, introspection and awareness to his short, jailed existence, than the humans managed in 30 days of supposed "freedom". PawPaw's key to a meaningful existence, is being READY to love others as he travels once through his unique bubble of life-time - and not just being enamored with one's solitary self.

benlink
benlink

"Seldom have I felt so directly addressed." Why is this a criticism?

Monty
Monty

Paw Paw is put to sleep-I only wish Mitanda July and the rest of her pathetic characters were put to sleep-What an awful depressing person this woman must be-Hated this film -Paw paw broke my heart and obviously this talentless "artist" has none-You could find more meaning looking at a toothpick for an hour.

Palomino812
Palomino812

J. Hoberman, you have the voice of a total pill.

Krangsquared
Krangsquared

So you mean it's kinda like Garfield, but with more navel gazing and less cat gluttony?

pretty rick
pretty rick

j. hoberman is irritating and hard to hate, mostly.

MARY
MARY

Will someone please post what happens to Paw Paw????!!! PLEASE!!

MARY
MARY

All I need to know: Does Paw Paw live or die at the end?

William Rauscher
William Rauscher

I feel bad somehow that Maya Deren is included in this list - I don't think Miranda July would be capable of immersing herself in extended anthropological research of Haitian Voodoo and then producing a detailed account to be published by Joseph Campbell.

Cool Raoul
Cool Raoul

Sounds like J. recovered from Me and You... Can't say I have myself. This sounds metatwee. Just reading about it makes me want to smash something. There's a Necro record with a bit of him and some goon friends of his on Stretch and Bobbito. Bobbito says something like, The views of Necro do not reflect those of blah blah blah, Necro says "I jus' wanna say Bob said that same shit back in 94 when I was in here kickin' violence and gay bashin'" and then one of his mates shouts GET KILLED. Now THIS, I like.

Mark Pritchard
Mark Pritchard

When I saw Miranda July live in San Francisco, I had a similar urge to bolt the theater. That performance piece also featured an unseen cat; maybe she was using the live show to work on material for the film. And similarly, I found the piece upsetting and emotionally manipulative.

AxJx Meyer
AxJx Meyer

I just got back from seeing a screening of this at the Melbourne International Film Festival here in Australia. I was surrounded by op-shop-clothe-divving hipsters to see their anti-herione. July is one very strange bird, yet funny enough, it is really is difficult to dislike her, even for her shoegazing annoyingness. I have to say, for both of her features she has worked with exceptional cinematographers. Both of the wallflower protagonists really needed a good shinkicking for leaving that cat. I was left gutted as well.

Thanks again for another great review, Mr Hoberman.

David Ehrenstein
David Ehrenstein

She's a lot closer to Andy Kaufman than Maya Deren. And even more annoying.

Nictate
Nictate

Nice to see July get credit for her self-deprecation. The Future is a heartbreaking film and a wise one.

Gldesign
Gldesign

I didn't find 'You And Me..." hard to hate at all.

Kristynacoates
Kristynacoates

I completly agree with,monty. I wish there was way,more of paw paw the poor kitty captured my heart it woul have been way better if she hadnt have died. It was heartbreaking to see her dreaming of a better world filled with hope only to be shot down by her soon to be killers having to,suffer in her own mind for two days wondering why they,hadnt come yet and then being put to,sleep because they were too careless and selfish to come save the animal who was injured and needed saving and love. If it wasnt for paw paw I never even would have picked up the boring movie paw paw got me thru it. Then the moment id been waiting for the whole time never came I feel paw paws dissappointment she deserved way better. I hate animal cruelty this was almost the worst kind.

annoonnnnonononon
annoonnnnonononon

paw paw dies :( cause skinny, indie 30 somethings don't care about kitties

Guest
Guest

Nice spoiler...

benlink
benlink

You've obviously missed the bigger picture, here. You are entitled to that view point, though. Eventually, however, you will have to look beyond cause and effect, Either Or thinking and see a bigger picture, which "The Future" lays out before you gracefully, poetically, and compassionately.

 

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