Miranda July has become a polarizing figure among the film fans who know her work, and I understand why. She is eccentric, both as a writer/director and as a performer, and it’s such an organic, complete part of her personality that I can’t imagine her ever shutting that off and making more “conventional” films, and I think that’s just fine. The voice she’s developing as a filmmaker is sweet and funny and odd, and it feels like she’s grown in the six years since she made her first film, “Me and You and Everyone We Know.”
The film opens with a voice-over by a cat named Paw-Paw who is wasting away in a shelter, dying, praying for someone to take him home. Her salvation comes in the form of Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), a couple who have been rolling along in a state of inertia for years. They’re determined to change things, experience new things, and try to accept some new responsibilities. They haven’t accomplished much, and they’re at that point in life where they have to start thinking that maybe they won’t, and it’s obvious that the thought scares them.
They’re told that it will be a month until they can take Paw-Paw home, and what ends up happening over the course of that month radically redefines things for both of them, but not in any way they would have expected. They look at it as their last 30 days of freedom before they are suddenly chained down by this obligation to the cat, which needs constant medical attention. The thing that was supposed to bring them together instead forces them to reassess who they are and what their relationship really means. What I found impressive was the way July can write something as ridiculous as the Paw-Paw character or a t-shirt that comes to life (seriously), but also manages to nail some very raw, very real emotion about some hard subjects.
I think her background as a short-story writer comes through clearly in the way she structures her work. She treats Sophie’s journey as one story and Jason’s journey as almost unrelated. Sophie is chasing artistic expression and success as a dancer on YouTube, while Jason is determined to find a new job that gives him emotional satisfaction. I think it’s bold for July to write herself a character who makes huge mistakes, who is unlikable at times, and whose choices are infuriating. She’s not worried about making you like Sophie so much as she seems desperate for you to understand the character.
July manages to set a tone that everyone seems tuned into, something that’s not always easy with this idiosyncratic a vision, and the sort of daffy point-of-view that she brings to her character work is expressed clearly through her entire cast. The film has a sort of shambling handmade aesthetic, which I liked a lot, and overall, I think this is a nice evolution for July as a filmmaker. Even if she only checks in a few times a decade, I hope she continues to work in the medium, and if you’re looking for a personal examination of what happens when our expectations of our lives fall short of the reality, shot through with a truly unique sense of humor, I urge you to find “The Future.”
“The Future” opens in limited release this weekend.