Performance artist Miranda July has only directed two feature films, but she’s already developed a specific reputation for a certain brand of indie quirk. Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) drew tremendous attention for her as a rising young star. It wasn’t for all tastes, but I found its offbeat approach to be charming. Six years later, July is back with The Future, a more deadpan look at a couple trying to take a different attitude on life. It’s clear from the first scene that the time hasn’t softened her goofy side. It opens with a talking cat waiting at the vet for a new owner. The injured pet, Paw-Paw, makes repeated appearances during the movie and is just one of many oddball elements.
The story focuses on July’s Sophie and her boyfriend Jason (Hamish Linklater), a couple struggling to have any energy for life. He works in a tech support job in their apartment, and she teaches dance classes to kids. After deciding they want to adopt Paw-Paw, they have 30 days before it goes through. During this time, they vow to change their lives. Both start having odd adventures during this month, including encounters with some new characters. Sophie calls up an art dealer acquaintance and starts visiting him, while Jason hangs out with an eccentric old man. Their lives are different, but not necessarily better than before the new approach.
Freed to break out of their current ruts, Sophie and Jason plot new courses for their lives during the next 30 days. After struggling to create worthy dances for You Tube, her decision to step away and hang out with Marshall (David Warshofsky) is a strange one. He’s a creepy guy who doesn’t seem to be a great catch, but maybe that’s the point. His daughter Gabriella (Isabella Acres) is charming, but Marshall remains a mystery.
On the other hand, Jason starts going door to door asking people to buy trees to save global warming. It’s a thankless role and is also a peculiar choice for switching up his life. Sophie and Jason are quickly drifting apart, and even their monotonous daily life at the start seems better by comparison.
After watching the characters flounder for the first hour, it’s surprising when July pulls the rug from under us during the final act. Sophie and Jason experience inexplicable shifts in time that have them questioning reality. In the best scene, she watches time passes dramatically in front her eyes. Kids go from their mothers’ wombs right into adulthood in just a few moments, and the effect is perfectly unsettling. Is Sophie’s mind facing the inevitable march towards old age and death? Or are these rapid movements in time really happening?
July’s not really interested in providing an explanation, which is the right choice. It’s too bad that these twists come late in the story and follow a good amount of less interesting activity.
Along with a commentary from July, the extras include “Making the Future”, a 16-minute behind-the-scenes look at the film. It provides the origins of its story, which grew out of one of July’s performances. This feature contains interviews with July and the other actors, combined with some production footage. They also cover the creation of the shirt dance, one of the movie’s most surreal moments.
There’s also one deleted scene called “A Handy Tip for the Easily Distracted”, which involves Sophie looking for ways to avoid the typical distractions. This is typical July humor and involves her “trapping” items like the computer so they can’t get in the way.
There are some remarkable moments in The Future that raise interesting questions about our existence. They just never come together into an effective complete product. The deadpan tone of the early scenes provides some fun, yet the nearly expressionless approach makes it a trickier experience. July keeps the story unpredictable and original; it’s not enough to provide consistent interest. Jon Brion’s elegant score helps to create an otherworldly feel, but the end result is a bit too mundane to transcend the early struggles.