If pressed, I would rank Miranda July's 2005 indie-hit "Me and You and Everyone We Know" as one of the strongest directorial debuts I've seen. Not content to just direct her debut, the film was also penned and starred the performance artist/writer turn filmmaker. July managed to capture magic amidst a (at times darkly) comic story of loneliness, romance, and growing up that was solidly acted by not just July herself but the underrated John Hawkes and a pair of pitch perfect young actors. To call her 2011 follow up, "The Future" highly anticipated would be an understatement, as would to call the final product a disaster.
July once again tackles the three major duties in the film, which is devoid of nearly all of her previous efforts humanity, substituting it for a tragically overcooked level of "quirk" and bizarre second-rate performance art gimmicks that make a 90-minute film painfully stumble to a near non-ending. The first signs that something is amiss, stems from the film's narrator, an injured cat named Paw Paw (voiced by July in exactly the type of voice you'd expect). Paw Paw has been adopted by Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) who have been given 30 days to prepare otherwise the cat will be put down. Neither Sophie nor Jason are capable of taking care of themselves, spending their days on the couch looking at You Tube videos and doing tech support. Sophie teaches dance to small children and uses what little motivation she has to try and create her own viral video, but completes nothing. The fact the couple needs 30 days to prepare to bring a cat into their home speaks volumes and begins a chain of tiny disasters that scars the film to it's painful conclusion.
While July is comfortable behind the camera, turning in a handsomely shot film that shows the promise of her previous effort remains, going as far as to make the film's ill-defined supernatural elements at least beautiful to watch. In all other categories though, July produces a film that when looked at as a whole and described in the most blunt of terms, is the equivalent of a David Lynch film, if David Lynch were a hipster. "The Future's" heart and soul, if it has one at all, is a story of relationships and responsibility and the film uses Sophie's infidelity with an older single father (an obvious poor allusion to Hawkes' Richard character in "Me and You and Everyone We Know") while a clueless Jason takes the obvious job of door-to-door canvasser, meeting an older man who July clumsily implies may be a future version of Jason. If one is to believe this interpretation, and if it's incorrect, it's yet another pointless element, then "The Future" falls into a Catch-22 where the journey to the end then has no purpose.
The toughest element to swallow though is the lack of any humanity in the film. The only sympathetic characters are the briefly seen and heard Paw Paw and the awkward young daughter of Sophie's affair. Sophie and Jason are the personification of aimless and detestable mid-30s do-nothings. The other few characters that populate the film's world are briefly encountered or in the case of Sophie's love, Marshall (David Warshofsky, who to his credit nails the role of a suburban sleazebag) are equally unlikable. That's not to say unlikable people ruin a film, but unlikable people with no motivation or poorly realized character arcs will quickly undermine a film to the point of no return. It's honestly a shame that "The Future" is as big of a disaster as it is, because July, for all intents and purposes is an artist with vision and while I can't determine whether she's misguided or self-indulgent here, the end result is a shame. Hopefully, future efforts will remain more grounded, maybe going as far as to remove July from the acting role, which is easily her weakest area. Another film like this though, and the name Miranda July will be relegated to fringe obscurity and target of indie-film cynics the world over.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer averages out to be a bit of a dismal experience. A handful of shots are full of definition and natural colorings, while the rest of the film has a hot look with mediocre contrast and above average detail. Digital noise/grain is inconsistent and intentional or not, the film has a cheap look in a number of scenes.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is underwhelming as well, with decent use of the surrounds but overall a very low-key mix that makes dialogue come across a slightly muddled in certain sequences. English and Spanish subtitles are included.
The big draw is July's first commentary track and it makes one almost feel bad for not liking her work as she's very relaxed, insightful, open and funny. "Making 'The Future'" is a 15-minute partially promotional, partially informative behind the scenes featurette. A deleted scene from the film is presented and appears to have been turned into a 3-minute short film by July; it's a novel use of excised material. Lastly the film's theatrical trailer is included.
A bizarre mash up of tragedy, comedy, romance, philosophy and science fiction, Miranda July's "The Future" offers viewers 90-minutes of unlikable people aimlessly drifting from one encounter to the next. Too often it insults its viewers with departures into performance art inspired non-sequiturs while failing to provide anything of merit to latch onto. Fans of July and newcomers alike are advised to (re)visit the far superior "Me and You and Everyone We Know." Skip It.