I hate cats. I really do. So when a film begins with awkward narration by a homeless, haggard feline, I’m prepared for something miserable. Fortunately, Miranda July’s The Future is not miserable. Far from it.
Narrating cat and all, The Future is a smart, thoughtful film that floats freely between genres and styles with an uncommon poise and confidence. This film knows exactly what it wants to do, and no matter how bizarre it might seem, it goes out and does it.
July, who wrote and directed the film, also stars as Sophie, one half of the focal couple that decides to adopt Paw-Paw, a cat with a bad paw that needs to find a home or be put down. Her boyfriend Jason (Hamish Linklater) is on board with this plan, and they’re told that they can pick Paw-Paw up in a month.
In the intervening time, both Sophie and Jason decide that they should change their lives and do new things before they’re saddled by the increased responsibility of taking care of a cat. Paw-Paw could stand in for a child, or a wedding, or really any kind of commitment, but the outcome is the same. These are two people who feel stuck, and want to make changes before it’s too late.
The changes are at first minor and often times hilarious. Jason gets sucked into being a door to door environmentalist, while Sophie decides to pursue her dance career via YouTube. But soon these changes reveal desires and issues that run much deeper than new careers, and soon the fabric of their relationship and reality itself start to bend. By the third act, time has become completely elastic, bending and breaking at every other turn.
There are so many ideas whirling around within The Future that it’s some kind of miracle that the film doesn’t spin out of control and pull itself apart. The first half is a hilarious if slightly-too-hipster comedy, the second half strewn with tragedies and devastating silences. Sprinkled throughout are doses of science fiction and, of course, cat wisdom.
Difficult as it might seem, July is able to balance all of these parts with skill well beyond what could be expected from her second feature. The characters she has created are fully human, completely believable in their actions even when we disagree with them. There are moments between Sophie and Jason that encompass a perfect sense of unsure intimacy. Linklater carries Jason’s character with all of the necessary insecurities and doubts, while July (no slouch as an actress) gives Sophie the screen presence of a shy bird. She’s watchful, often scared, and constantly hungering for something unknown.
Having characters this strong is essential, because it means that even when The Future doesn’t make practical sense, it still makes sense on an emotional level. It is not a perfect film, but maybe it shouldn’t be. Perhaps it must be flawed, strange and messy for it to be correct. July’s film is content to ask questions without answers, to dip deep into the trenches of love, discontent and forgiveness and simply wonder what it all means, if it means anything at all. Sometimes the questions are more interesting than the answers.
The Future is strange, but still somehow great. Except for the cat, of course: B+