Already you’ve likely heard about the narrating cat. You might have spotted the advice-giving moon from the trailer. And you may already have a strong opinion on Miranda July who, as in her debut feature Me and You and Everyone We Know, speaks in a hesitant helium drawl, maddeningly ends declarative sentences with question marks and wears a frozen deer-in-headlights expression that makes her look like the performance artist version of SNL vet Mary Gross. July, and her films, should be annoying. Frankly, July the actress is (intentionally?) annoying. Her films, however, while annoying in spots, are curiously non-annoying. Like Me and You, The Future is icky in dispassionate description but decidedly less so in practice. But where Me and You offered a warm view of humanity, The Future ain’t so pretty.
July and Hamish Linklater play Sophie and Jason, a couple suddenly made painfully aware of their impending 40s on the cusp of becoming parents, albeit only to a sickly feline. “Forty is basically 50,” Jason figures. Abruptly aware of all that they’ve left unseen and unaccomplished, they find themselves embarking on disastrous attempts at self-improvement. July finds herself befriending and then attracted to middle-aged suburban divorcee Marshall (David Warshofksy), who wears a “sleazy” gold chain because, he says, it sends the message that he’s “ready to fuck.” Soon they are, and that’s when the bleakness that was long threatening to overpower the whimsy completely takes over.
July’s schtick may be polarizing, but it’s widely misidentified as good-hearted whimsy. Thing is, in both her films, and especially The Future, she employs abstract methods that could be deemed cute to convey true depths of despair. Upon discovering Sophie’s infidelity, Jason literally shuts down, spending a large chunk of the movie in a bizarre state of nocturnal limbo. It’s a disturbing and compact way to depict deep, crippling depression. Likewise, haters will wretch upon learning that Sophie’s emotional apex is represented by a dance of despair and disillusionment performed inside an oversized tee-shirt, but the scene manages to be both ridiculous and impossibly moving.
Everything that’s whimsical turns to shit in The Future, including the talking cat. By the bracing final scene, any cuteness, anything that pisses July’s detractors off, is gone, leaving only hopelessness and an excellent apparent homage to The Third Man.