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Down the Escape Hatch

In Miranda July’s The Future, never mind the defeated protagonists—even the cat’s a little fatalistic.

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In her second feature, The Future, Miranda July has the look of a disappointed ghost that can’t fully materialize. Her eyes are the palest blue, her skin less milky than skim-milky, her body never quite seizing the space. Her panpipe voice is all from the head, devoid of chest tones, of air—which might account for both her light-headed aura and her evident gift for self-hypnosis, for going back in time to evoke the helpless little girl she once was. The character she played in her first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, was most at home in her cozy bedroom playing with puppets, and it’s easy to imagine July writing scripts that way: On some level, she’ll always be a solo performer. But that doesn’t hurt her as a dramatist, surprisingly. In July’s universe, we’re all solo performers, and the more creative the performance, the better the chance of connecting—making a dance—with another soloist. When the creative impulse dies, you get the discordant loneliness of The Future.

The movie has a frame that’s both whimsical and wrenching: narration by a scratchy little voice (July’s) that’s meant to belong to a cat, seen largely as a pair of puppet paws. (Her name is Paw Paw.) The idea is that this cat, born in the wild, injured and unloved, is scheduled to be adopted by an unmarried L.A. couple, Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), and the thought makes Paw Paw warm inside: “They petted me and I accidentally made that sound that said, ‘I am a cat and I belong to you,’ and upon making the sound I felt it to be true.” But the couple’s sudden realization that in 30 days (when the sick Paw Paw can leave the shelter) they’ll be tied down to a dependent creature (symbolizing a human child or just the burdens of adulthood) fills them with dread. Jason works from their tiny apartment in computer tech support, while Sophie teaches (without enthusiasm) dance to little girls. They still have big dreams. But they’re both, says Jason, five years from 40, which (he adds) is the new 50, after which those dreams will go unrealized. So they have 30 days to be free, whimsical spirits and do something big.

This could be the premise of a zany comedy, but the mood of The Future is, from the outset, defeatist—annoyingly defeatist, to be frank. This is one unfun couple. Jason accepts a job selling trees door to door for an environmental group but shows neither faith nor ingenuity. He’s hopelessly ineffectual. Sophie vows to create, perform, and post on YouTube 30 dances in 30 days, but loses the thread on day one. To overcome her paralysis, she phones a stranger whose number she finds on the back of a drawing Jason bought. That brings her to Marshall (­David Warshofsky), a fiftyish single father with a well-appointed house in the Valley. Meeting him, she robotically turns her back and hikes up her skirt, so he can take her from behind. Marshall and his house seem like a quick ladder out of the slough of despond.

The Future will be an unpleasant shock to many fans of Me and You and Everyone We Know, which had its share of dark (and transgressive) elements but was leavened by deadpan jokes, romance, and moments of blissful transcendence. This one’s unleavened—and motorless, and squirmy, with no safe harbors. I hated watching it almost as much as I loved watching Me and You. But by the end I’d come around. July is often derided as self-consciously dotty, but those dots are connected. Her life is a hunt for modes of self-expression, for people’s creative escape hatches from the (transient) here and (ephemeral) now. An old man (Joe Putterlik) whom Jason meets through a Pennysaver ad displays a series of holiday cards handmade for his wife that are full of bracingly lewd verses. Marshall’s daughter, Gabriella (Isabella Acres), decides to bury herself in a backyard hole, in which she vows to spend the night—and then, hours later, comes weeping to the door, in need of love and a hot bath, the full realization of her little-match-girl life having just sunk in. Sophie’s final quasi-dance, inside one of her shirts, is a physical meditation on entrapment—and an astonishing distillation of her journey. July is working as hard as any artist alive to find new forms to express the dread of formlessness.

The Future has one failed creation: Linklater’s Jason, who’s too morose and closed-down, too much a mirror image—almost an incestuous reflection—of ­Sophie’s immobilization. July has given him a vaguely artistic impulse—he says he can stop time—but it’s more vague than artistic. On the other hand, July’s failure of imagination might also be a sign of her integrity. There’s no future with a guy with no faith in the future.

The makers of Crazy, Stupid, Love, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, are too sane and (commercially) smart to make the craziness consequential and stupidity ruinous: After the whirlpools of Miranda July, we’re back on the rom-com mainland. But the movie has an unexpectedly high proportion of delights to groaners, and it’s full of actors you’ll want to see—real actors, like Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, and Emma Stone, their edges not blunted by years of making witless buddy movies and chick flicks. Gosling, alarmingly sleek and muscular, plays a trust-fund-wealthy pickup virtuoso who helps broken, newly dumped nebbish Steve Carell “rediscover his manhood” by teaching him how to dress and chat up the ladies—though sweetie-pie Carell still moons over Moore, his first and only love, who slept with her smarmy colleague (Kevin Bacon) and is now a wreck of wayward emotions. This is the sort of quasi-farcical picture in which Carell’s 13-year-old son (Jonah Bobo) longs for his 17-year-old babysitter (Analeigh Tipton) who longs for Carell who spies on Moore … The script, by Dan Fogelman, is unusually and gratifyingly bisexual—i.e., it boasts scenes from both the male and female points of view! One of those scenes is a gem, a keeper: sharp-witted Stone and Gosling in his bachelor pad, her pressing him to demonstrate his time-tested seduction routine—while simultaneously falling for it. Stone is amazingly vivid. She looks hungry to act and sometimes just hungry, as when she spontaneously bites Gosling’s shoulder in a wineshop. Half of the audience will moan, “I’d like some of that shoulder!” while the other half yells, “Bite me!

The Future
Directed by Miranda July. R.

Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. PG-13.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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