So I had developed a hatred of Miranda July based solely on her appearance, that faux-naive expression she always has, and how very precious all of her work seemed to be. This is, of course, without having seen any of her work. So when The Future came out, and looked to be about a topic of interest to me--thirty-somethings who were brought up to believe that they'd do something culturally important but find their lives drab and meaningless--I thought I could overcome my aversion and finally see what this July person is all about. And now, in place of my irrational, ininformed hatred, I am able to move into an uninterested, knowing dismissal. Progress has been made.
We open by seeing the paws of a cat and hearing it's voice, both of which are played by July. The cat speaks of Sophie and Jason, who came to consider taking the cat home, and how much the cat wants to go with them. We then meet Sophie and Jason themselves, played by July and Hamish Linklater, who are L.A. slackers with get-by jobs who spend their days on the Internet, having overly precious, useless conversations, and playing little games such as pretending that Jason can stop time. They have discussed adopting the cat, which has five months to live. They go in to get the cat, which has a bandaged paw, and are told they'll have to wait thirty days to adopt. They're also told that if the cat bonds with them, it may live five years, a commitment they're not sure they're ready for. They go home and discuss that "We'll be forty in five years," which makes Jason reflect that "Forty is basically fifty, and everything after that is just loose change... not enough to get anything you really want." They both agree that they've "been gearing up to do something really incredible for the past five years."
So they both quit their jobs in an effort to live their lives more meaningfully. He signs up to go door to door for an effort to combat global warming. She is envious of other women who dance alone in their room and post the videos to YouTube, and has been trying to develop her own dance to post to YouTube and soak up all that meaningful admiration from strangers, but has been too self-conscious. So she disconnects the Internet and sets a goal of recording thirty dances in thirty days. There's a comic scene in which they have about an hour to look up whatever they need on the Internet before it's cut off, and bicker over what's important enough to look up.
Every so often we cut to the cat and it talks about how lonely she is, and how she can't wait for Sophie and Jason to come get her, take her home and love her. Then she won't be alone at night. The couple has put the date they can get the cat on their calendar, and refer to it several times.
One day Jason buys a drawing a father made of his daughter because he feels bad that no one has bought it. The young daughter has written their phone number on it so that if the buyer doesn't like it, they can return it to her. Sophie sees the number and calls the owner, just reaching out to someone out there, and he humors her über-precious conceit and pointless conversations. Sophie poses as someone who wants a sign made to meet the father of the young girl and creator of the drawing, who makes signs for a living. His name is Marshall. Soon she goes again, and eventually they have sex. Meanwhile Jason is meeting an older man of his own, who tells him of his long marriage and gives Jason the perspective that he's actually at the beginning of his relationship, not far into it as he thinks. Jason is also fascinated by the little collections the older man makes and poems he writes.
SPOILERS > > >
One night Sophie can't sleep because of guilt over her affair with Marshall, and is about to tell Jason when he stops time--only he really does it this time. Meanwhile we start cutting to Sophie moving in with Marshall, who clearly adores her, and getting used to his suburban existence. There is a very funny moment when the daughter is digging a hole in the back yard, and when Sophie suggests that she might be digging a hole to China, the girl retorts "I think that might be racist." We can see that Marshall is made very happy by having Sophie as his new girlfriend, and are left to believe that he was lonely before. We then cut back to Jason, still holding Sophie down and stopping time, and have to wonder if the scenes with Marshall aren't actually happening, but an imagined projection of what could happen. But by the end, Sophie returns from living with Marshall, and we are left to assume that they really happened.
While time is stopped, Jason talks to the moon, who speaks to him with the voice of the old man he has befriended. He faces that he has to let time continue, but when he let's go, it is still stopped. Meanwhile Sophie is living with Marshall, and sees a yellow T shirt crawling to her down the street, finally creeping up on her bed. That is actually very much like a particular M.R. James horror story. She returns to her job, but now is only allowed to staff the front desk. She sees two of her friends come in to the dance center where she works, and finds they’re both pregnant. They both agree that being pregnant is “A drag… but also amazing.” Then they both have the babies. Then the kids are toddlers. Then teenagers. Then adults, with their own small kids. Back at Marshall’s, she dons the yellow T shirt that has followed her, and now dons it and does a whole dance, to the song we have seen her try to compose a dance to the entire movie, implying that whatever blockage she had about it is now gone. Marshall sees her while she’s at it, and simply gives her a strange, appalled look and walks away. Meanwhile, Jason goes out and tries to get time started again, finally succeeding.
They both separately realize that yesterday was the day they were supposed to go pick up the cat, and learn that—there are apparently different interpretations about what happened, but it seems pretty clear that—it was put to sleep. We may have one more cat vignette about her heartbreak at realizing they weren’t coming, before finding peace in kitty heaven. Sophie goes back to Jason, where they strike an uneasy truce and the movie ends with them back in their routine, as a significant song [that I couldn’t even go into] plays.
< < < SPOILERS END
So amusement can be had by going to the IMDb page for this movie and sorting user reviews by “hated it,” and seeing all of the people who HATE this movie because the only reason they saw it was the cat [think about that] and they hate it, hate, hate, HATE it, because of the fate the cat meets. This makes me think that instead of, or in addition to, cheesy movies attempting to bring in dog lovers, like My Dog Skip or Marley & Me, there should be at least an equal number of movies about cute cats. Money is being left on the table here. Like the kitty hanging from the tree in the famous “Hang In There!” posters. How did the cat get there? What’s the cat’s backstory? Maybe she was running away from an abusive household, or seeking fame as a burlesque dancer, or trying to balance hunky new unshaven boyfriends with a dynamic fashion career on the bustling streets of New York? Let’s work it into a trilogy.
The abuse of a character that makes me kind of hate this movie is the way Marshall is treated. It is a well-worn cliché among young hipsters that those over forty function only as unfavorable comparisons to themselves, and exist for little reason other than to facilitate revelations in self-awareness amongst the younger set. The movie portrays Marshall as lonely and then made very happy by her being in his life, so the way the movie has her just dump him makes Sophie, and July herself, come off extremely cruel and insensitive. The cat gets some closure, but Marshall simply vanishes (after being portrayed as FAR too mainstream to engage with Sophie’s avant-garde dance), which also carries the message that his character doesn’t even deserve closure. I mean, like HELLO, he is like, old and gross anyway, and like, so suburban and whatever, and totally, I mean, like, RIGHT, you know? So it’s perfectly fine for Sophie to cruelly lead him on at a whim, then dump him at another whim, because, like, ewwww. Look, this is about HER anyway, right? Once more we must refer to what is shaping up as the masterpiece of the listless youth film, Ghost World, in which the main characters also picks up and cruelly dumps and older guy—only that film includes and deals with the implications. I think we need only wait a few years before July and others are lecturing to us and writing condescending editorials for Huffington Post about how THEY have DISCOVERED that life continues after forty!
What this movie could use a heavy dose of is self-awareness. The first half seems like it might have a bit, as our characters face that they have bought into a fantasy that they’re going to produce something meaningful, and Sophie is jealous of women who are seeking the approval of strangers for dancing to songs created by someone else. There’s the wish to adopt this cat with only a few months to live, so that they might feel that they’ve done something positive for another living being [that is not an over-forty male, who deserve no compassion], but aren’t sure they really want to care for it for five years. So it seems to be going okay, but all that is gone in the second half, where the old man is cast as a maturity catalyst for Jason, Marshall and his daughter are the ghetto Sophie briefly slums in, and at the end it’s difficult to believe that anything at all has changed for these two characters, although I suspect we’re supposed to think it has. I was looking forward to a critique of a generation brought up to believe that they’re each a special little snowflake and that all of them are going to do something world-changing, but by the time we get to the end it turns out there’s no real revelation or critique here, except perhaps that these characters need to be a little less critical of themselves. Which may actually be precisely the opposite of what they need.
Still, I have to give it up that July has made two movies and done, you know, whatever else, while all I’ve done is create a website where I can post my unedited ramblings and do absolutely nothing to promote myself or find a larger audience… so it’s easy to sit back on the sidelines and take potshots. She is actually making works that are getting seen. And the movie is engaging and I was surprised at the amount of drama it is able to wring out of its climactic moments, even as we are quite sure they’re not actually happening in reality. I enjoyed the first half, but it’s just that you gradually begin to suspect it’s going to amount to less, much less, than you’d hoped, and by the time it’s over you know that this is precisely the case.
It won't kill you, but there are numerous reasons not to bother.