As any moviegoer will confirm, there are a lot of bad films being made. Plots are grown to die on the vine. Characters are one dimensional. Dialogue is functional. Comedy appeals to the lowest common denominator. On the other hand, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish eccentric films that are well done from these bad films, because few moviegoers have the perspective to approach such a movie properly. The Future by Miranda July is definitely not a bad film, but exists as more of a proof of concept rather than as a piece of entertainment, which will definitely turn off many audiences.
Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are a thirty-something couple, living in LA, who decide to adopt a cat named Paw Paw. Since Paw Paw was seriously injured while living in the wild, Sophie and Jason have a month to wait before the rescue shelter will release the cat to them in order for the animal to heal. With the impending date looming on the horizon, the couple realizes that the introduction of Paw Paw into their lives is a drastic interruption that threatens to swallow up their hopes and dreams. So Sophie and Jason decide to take drastic measures to do something significant before Paw Paw arrives. Jason quits his job and joins an environmental group. Sophie quits her job and attempts to create a dance. Unfortunately, these changes drive an unexpected wedge between the couple, leaving a gap that their relationship and lives may never fully bridge again.
Sophie and Jason are a lot of fun to watch in the way that – as a couple – they exhibit their esoteric quirks. In the beginning, Jason reveals that he can stop time, but it’s really just a game where he and Sophie freeze in place. When they wake in the morning, Sophie greets Jason with an endearing “hello person.” Then when their apartment Internet is about to be shut off, it’s interesting to watch them both scramble through search engines to look up whatever they think they’ll need to know immediately. In short, audiences live with these characters and get a wholly developed sense for their eccentricities. It’s to the actors’ credit that Sophie and Jason are so fun to experience.
While the characters are done well, the plot is absurd and almost incomprehensible. It strains reason that people’s lives could be so disrupted by a pet that they would be willing to make life-altering decisions in just a few moments’ time. While viewers grapple with that reality, they’re treated to watching Sophie and Jason make the most of their decisions. Jason goes door to door, trying to sell trees while Sophie records herself dancing awkwardly in front of her laptop over and over again. Jason also seems to meet his future self when he sets out to buy a used hairdryer and Sophie takes care of a girl that wants to try sleeping buried in the backyard from the neck down. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these subplots or how they’re presented, they sadly don’t resolve in any kind of satisfying way either, which will leave audiences feeling at least a little cheated. It’s refreshing when stories don’t wrap up neatly. It’s maddening, however, when stories don’t wrap up.
There’s also a surreal aspect of the film that is as surprising as it is confusing. For instance, Paw Paw the cat breaks the fourth wall and communicates directly to the audience in very human terms and gesticulations. Joe (Joe Putterlik), the hairdryer seller, seems to have the exact same bric-a-brac and furniture as Jason and Sophie. Finally, Sophie’s incredible t-shirt lives up to its name in a very literal sense and Jason seems to truly possess time-altering powers. Unfortunately, it’s unclear if any of Jason’s or Sophie’s or Paw Paw’s surreal observations or actions are really happening within the world of the film or if they’re simply a fictive technique to tell the story, considering how weird many other moments are. It’s a fun exercise to try and make sense of these conventions within the film, but that probably isn’t the kind of fun moviegoers are looking for when they watch movies.
In many ways, The Future feels like a series of shorts strung together into a loose narrative. Appreciated as such, viewers will be treated to a lot of fun, creative vignettes. Taken as the sum of its parts, audiences will be too distracted trying to understand the film to enjoy it.