“They came back and I accidentally made the sound that says ‘I am cat and I belong to you’”
Even on the basis of her debut feature Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) alone, it was immediately clear that the charms of writer/director Miranda July were always going to be an acquired taste, her particular brand of insular kookiness dividing critics and viewers into those open to the oddball tangents of her overactive imagination and those who’d rather hastily schedule a trip to the dentist than watch another of her pictures. Whilst finding her style somewhat mannered, I also found a lot to like in her first film; she’s certainly an eccentric character in American cinema but one with a unique voice, yet on the strength of this, her second picture, I’ll be yanking out teeth and running for the phone before you get me to watch her third.
Opening with the first of many excruciating existential monologues delivered by a cat (baby-voiced by July herself), recovering at a veterinary clinic after being rescued by Sophie (July) and boyfriend Jason (Hamish Linklater), The Future certainly isn’t afraid to wear its weirdness on its sleeve. The leftfield meanderings, blatant contrivance and calculation behind said weirdness however, stops the film dead in its tracks before it has much of a chance to begin, failing to resemble anything approaching truthful human interaction, even in the most straightforward scenes with which the film begins. Instead, what we’re presented with is a never-ending parade of tics and neuroses, a co-dependant relationship that feeds on fears and anxieties of everything that lies beyond the walls of their apartment. We’re asked to find Sophie and Jason’s quirks both cute and amusing, as they count down the days until they can pick up their cat for adoption from the vet (on the basis that it’ll be dead in six months), but as Sophie clutches her T-shirt comforter ‘Shirty’ to her cheek, and Jason talks about the possibility of sustaining serious head injury, hastily looking up facts on the internet before it’s cut off and afraid to answer the door when there’s a knock, one feels less charmed by their coupled idiosyncrasies than concerned for the general state of their mental health. There’s certainly plenty of sincerity and commitment to the strangeness of both dialogue and behaviour but little joy to be found. It’s a depressing, almost nihilistic experience; their anxious, rambling shuffles around the extremities of their apartment made me think of Jeremy Irons’ final scenes in Dead Ringers more than anything else.
The mortality-conscious talking cat aside, the first half of the film keeps its narrative grounded within the remits of July’s peculiar approximation of reality. Having both quit their jobs, Jason is quick to find another, selling trees as a door-to-door environmental campaigner, whilst Sophie is left to her own devices at home, choosing to upload a series of ‘dances’ onto YouTube. All situations in which both characters find themselves are contrived to the point of lunacy, whether it be Jason’s encounter with an elderly, dirty limerick-writing oddball from whom he buys a hairdryer, or Sophie’s random phone call to a sign-maker with whom she begins an uncomfortable affair. When she feels the need to confess to Jason, he stops time to take guidance from the moon, Sophie continuing her affair in a kind of parallel dimension.
Images of Sophie writhing around in her bright yellow comforter like she’s trying out for a part in Audition, or the daughter of the sign-maker digging a hole in the garden in which to spend the night prove simply alienating in their pointlessness, and do little to raise a smile. In fact, given the pervasive air of antsy, melancholic dread the characters seem to breathe, it would take little more than a blast of Angelo Badalamenti on the soundtrack to turn The Future into a film student’s tribute to David Lynch. The self-absorption and neurotic vanity expressed by Sophie is echoed in the direction; July is rarely out of tiny clothes and whilst declaring that “I wish I was one notch prettier”, is happy to cast an actor that appears to be her male double.
It’s an uncomfortable watch, often akin to nails on a blackboard, so far from any kind of emotional truth and awash with neurosis that there’s little with which to engage sympathetically. When Jason declares in the last ten minutes that “the wrecking ball has already hit, this is the moment when it all falls down”, one can’t shake the feeling that he’s already 80 minutes too late.
The Future – 2011 – USA – 91 mins – Dir : Miranda July
The Future plays at the London Film Festival on the 20th, 21st & 23rd October and goes on general release on November 4th.
Tickets for the London Film Festival screenings are available here