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The Future: A quirky look at the trials of maintaining love

In this image released by Roadside Attractions, Miranda July portrays Sophie, left, and Hamish Linklater portrays Jason in a scene from "The Future."

(AP Photo/Roadside Attractions)/(AP Photo/Roadside Attractions)

3 out of 4 stars


Before we get to The Future, a word about the past. Historically, on any tour of the indie film circuit, you can't walk a step without tripping over a relationship flick, the kind where navel-gazing couples prattle on endlessly about love found and lost. And yes, broadly speaking, this is another relationship flick. But in the dexterous hands of Miranda July - who when not making movies is writing short stories or staging performance art or generally consolidating her title as the reigning Queen of Quirk - both the relationship and the flick are unlike any you've seen before. Admittedly, like all brands of quirky, hers is an acquired taste. It can definitely grate on your nerves but, at best, it also gets into your mind, and sticks fast.

Back in her feature debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, July focused on discovering love. Here, she shifts to the much harder task of maintaining it. After several years together, Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (July) share many things: a low-rent apartment in L.A., the no-longer-tender age of 35, a mass of curly hair atop anxiously thin frames, jobs they don't much like, and the certainty that the future is closing in on them fast. Or, as he puts it, "After 50, it's just loose change."

To embrace responsibility, the two decide to adopt from the pound an injured cat named Paw Paw, which they can pick up in a month when its wounds have healed. In the first of the quirks to come, July makes her own decision to have the animal narrate the movie - in a small, scratchy voice opining on big, nagging topics like existential "darkness." Well, it's a cute gimmick. As feline philosophers go, Paw Paw is the cat's meow.

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Anyway, in the intervening month before pet parenthood, Sophie and Jason pledge to explore what's left of their freedom. They opt to quit those onerous jobs, disconnect from the Internet, and pursue their creative side. He puts his trust in the whims of fate, venturing outside for some close encounters with interesting (and, of course, quirky) strangers. Less bravely, she takes a more goal-oriented approach, shutting herself in the apartment to choreograph "30 dances in 30 days." Stalled on Day 1, Sophie panics and flees from her unproductive self into an affair with a middle-aged guy living a middle-class life in the suburban confines of the Valley. Learning of her betrayal, a crushed Jason yearns to turn back the clock and stop time, whereupon the film takes a surreal turn - he bargains with the moon, with love's symbol, while she is literally pursued by his old sweater, by the tattered remnants of love's past.

From there, the questions press: Will Sophie come back? Will Jason let go? More to the point, do we care either way? No and yes. At times, July's mannered style only serves to distance us from her characters, who seem little more than frail vessels in a sea of familiar themes - security vs. risk, boredom vs. adventure, self-negation vs. self-discovery. However, at other moments, those same mannerisms generate real emotional tension, and give to the old themes a fresh life. That's when the surreal imagery starts getting into our head; that's when the dialogue loses its preciousness to speak with arresting eloquence.

For example, consider this remark from Sophie who, standing before a mirror, assesses her appearance: "I wish I were just one notch prettier. I'm right on the edge, where each person must decide for themselves. I have to make my case with each person." Casual yet clever, the line resonates precisely because we all live on that same edge, a notch shy of something - if not prettiness then smarts or talent or strength of character or fullness of heart - striving yet again to make our case with the next person and, by extension, ourselves. So The Future ends where the past began and the present continues, precisely on the edge with love teetering in the balance - a human constant in constant jeopardy.

The Future

  • Directed and written by Miranda July
  • Starring Miranda July and Hamish Linklater
  • Classification: 14A
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