||Miranda July follows up her deliciously oddball debut feature, “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” with an even quirkier sophomore effort, which, though it has moments you can’t help but chuckle over, comes across as too peculiar by half. “The Future” isn’t exactly bleak, and it certainly has a distinctive deadpan feel. But it is too ostentatiously whimsical to be much more than a weird curio.
The film acts as a complement to its predecessor. “You and Me” was about the difficulty of beginning a romantic relationship, and “The Future” is about the difficulty of maintaining one. Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are an extremely laid-back (practically comatose, in fact) Los Angeles couple who’ve been living together for five years; he’s a technical support guy working at home via his laptop, and she’s a gawky—and not particularly talented—dance teacher to a bunch of tots.
As the story—if the script really deserves such a bland word—opens, the duo are debating whether to take a major step—adoption. But what they’re thinking of adopting isn’t a child, but a cat they rescued from the street. The feline, whom they decided to call Paw-Paw, is in the shelter where they can pick it up after a month of treatment for its injuries. But if they fail to do so, it will be euthanized.
For Jason and Sophie, however, the prospect of taking on the responsibility of Paw-Paw seems like a death sentence for all their unlikely dreams—even though the cat’s been diagnosed with feline leukemia and might not survive more than six months. So they both chuck their sort-of jobs to live the next thirty days to the full. For Sophie that means posting an interpretative dance every day on the web—though she fails to complete even the first of them. For Jason, it involves impulsively becoming a door-to-door volunteer for an organization dedicated to persuading people to buy and plant trees to help fight global warming. He’s an abject failure, too—though his wanderings do bring him into contact with a garrulous old man who informs him how tortured long-term relationships are.
But Jason notices that the furniture in the old man’s home is awfully familiar. Could the lonely fellow be a vision of himself in fifty years? Meanwhile, Sophie uses a phone number on the back of a drawing that Jason bought to contact the artist (David Warshofsky), a single parent with a precocious daughter (Isabella Acres), who among other things likes to be buried up to her neck in the back yard with her dad’s blessing. Sophie has an affair with the guy and even moves in with him, although on a separate track Jason, fearful that she’ll leave him, stops time for a month, restarting it only after a discussion with the moon. That preoccupation with the passage of time is also reflected in Sophie’s life: when she takes a job as a receptionist in her old dance studio, the clients age by decades as she sits at her desk.
And did I mention that this human side of things is periodically interrupted by monologues by Paw-Paw (a meow-over by July), who sits in a cage musing over how long a wait it will be before Sophie and Jason return to take her to a new, hopeful life?
But there isn’t much that’s really all that hopeful about “The Future,” which uses its characters’ habit of virtually sleepwalking through life as a prelude to the realization that even in that circumstance change isn’t necessarily for the better, and where it leads might very well not be what you long for.
July succeeds in creating a very personal mood in this wryly understated, hypnotically absurd film, whose modest budget reflects the cutely shabby lifestyle of its misfit couple. But the opaque, elusive sensibility makes it considerably less accessible than “Me, You and Everyone We Know,” and so less likely to satisfy those not already enchanted by her gamin-like quality. Within the admittedly narrow confines she’s established, however, July creates a figure not unlike those of silent comedy—her dance routines, including one that involves an oddly animated yellow shirt, are weirdly expressive—and Linklater matches her with a portrayal of a stiff, lanky, fearful, halting guy that’s strangely touching. The rest of the cast get by, but little more, and on the technical side this is clearly a bare-bones effort, the only hint of style coming in Paw-Paw’s monologues, in which we see only the cat’s paws (one heavily bandaged), and in Jason’s conversations with the moon.
As “The Future” makes clear, July’s is a peculiar cinematic voice—but in this case at least, not necessarily one you’ll find charmingly off-the-wall.