The documentary-drama The Future is Now! is one of those quest-for-enlightenment inspirational films that comes along every few years in which the viewer's attention is torn between the breezy philosophical chat and a sense of awe at the filmmakers' travel budget.
The Future is Now! is co-directed by Calgary native Gary Burns, who made two good satiric features - Kitchen Party (1997) and waydowntown (2000) - before falling for the dangerous lure of ideas. First came his ponderous science-fiction allegory, A Problem with Fear, and then his 2006 documentary, Radiant City (2006), about suburbia and its discontents.
Like Radiant City, The Future is Now! was co-written and directed with journalist Jim Brown. While their intentions were undoubtedly good, The Future is Now! proves a pretty dismal attempt at trying to cheer people up. The approach was inspired by a 1949 French filmby Nicole Védrès called Le vie commence demain ( Life Begins Tomorrow), about a skeptical man who is introduced to such French intellectuals as Jean-Paul Sartre, Daniel Agache, Jean Rostand, Le Corbusier, Pablo Picasso and André Gide.
In our updated version, Quebec actor Paul Ahmarani (Congorama, The Left-Hand Side of the Fridge) is a skeptic, who is known as Man of Today. Actress Liane Balaban (New Waterford Girl, One Week), known here as Woman of Tomorrow, is the journalist who sets out to change his mind. First, she invites him to a poetry reading with Toronto poet Christian Bök (deserving of his own documentary), then sends him on a world tour interviewing famous people in various walks of life. These include Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, artist Marlene Dumas, philosopher Alain de Botton and novelist Rivka Galchen. Man of Today asks general questions and the famous people try hard to be helpful.
A couple of ringers are also thrown in. A mock interview with the ghost of Jean-Paul Sartre is created, using stock National Film Board footage. Scenes of Sartre are intercut with footage of scientists Richard Dawkins and Craig Venter at a conference in Las Vegas.
Throughout, John Abram's score bounces along merrily, and eventually our Man of Today seems to be much more enthusiastic and optimistic about the world.
Though The Future is Now! attempts to be playful about big ideas, the conceit comes across as condescending and the results inane. By the end, I had little sense of why the subjects were chosen or how their commonplace observations could be construed as life-changing. The Woman of Tomorrow keeps talking about optimism and enthusiasm, but we have game-show hosts and Oprah for that, don't we? Call me a cockeyed optimistic, but I'd always hoped the future would be a lot smarter than this.
The Future is Now!
- Written and directed by Gary Burns and Jim Brown
- With Paul Ahmarani and Liane Balaban
- Classification: PG