Growing up sucks. I'm not talking about high school or college. I mean that stretch where you're technically an adult but not yet a grownup, when you have to start making the big decisions that will impact the rest of your life. Some of us take on that role at a young age while others put it off as along as possible, but all of us know the truth: Putting away those childish things is a bummer, and the day you realize that you're a grownup, rather than just a young adult, is a tough blow to the psychic chops.
Miranda July, that storkish enigma of a performance artist, examines these moments in her new film, The Future, the long-awaited follow-up to her 2005 debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know. As in all of her work, the movie—opening Friday, Aug. 12, Hillcrest Cinemas—is seen through a lens that's distorted, a mirror that's both reflective and opaque. The image will be disturbing to some and completely unwatchable to others, while a quiet few will embrace it as touching, emotional and frighteningly familiar.
The story is told from the point of view of Paw-Paw, an injured stray cat. Yes, that's a strange way for a film to start things off, but Paw-Paw—voiced by July—introduces us to Sophie (played by July) and her boyfriend Jason (Hamish Linklater), the folks who found the cat and delivered it to a shelter.
Sophie and Jason are an unmarried couple in their mid- 30s, neither having accomplished as much as they might have liked. She teaches dance classes to toddlers, while he does over-the-phone tech support from home. Are they happy? Sure. Are they unhappy? Sure. Mostly, they're just living their lives in something of an arrested-development limbo. But, suddenly, they find they have committed to adopting Paw-Paw in a month's time, when she's healed.
This obligation changes everything. They have just 30 days before real life and real responsibility are thrust upon them. To Jason and Sophie, they'll suddenly be grown up and pushing 40. And then 50. And then, as Jason says, the rest is just loose change, not quite enough to get anything you want.
They respond to this awakening by quitting their jobs. He starts volunteering for an environmental agency, while Sophie starts a YouTube project. But none of this is satisfying. Soon, Jason is spending his afternoons visiting an old man whose life was, he hopes, much like his is going to be. Sophie begins an affair with Marshall (David Warshofsky), a single dad with a strange, precocious daughter (Isabella Acres).So, we've got a talking cat and enormous lifestyle changes. But that's not where things get really weird. See, Jason discovers he has the power to stop time. And he's able to have conversations with the moon. There's a T-shirt that follows Sophie around town. Oh, and the little girl spends most of her time digging a hole in the garden in which to bury herself.
Of course, everything represents something else, and July isn't overt in explaining what is what. Her character is running away from impending responsibility into a situation that's even more grown-up. In Jason's case, plenty of us have stopped time when things get bad by going off the grid and essentially denying the negative stuff we're facing. Sure, sometimes July's methods feel a bit twee, but they're nothing if not unique.
What's important to note is that the changes and decisions these two make have almost nothing to do with the future itself, but they have everything to do with the anticipation of what's going to happen. Jason does his best to sort out what's going to happen to them, whereas Sophie goes out of her way to sabotage her own life. That, sadly, is often what life is really like, and that, as far as I'm concerned, is the true insight of July's film.
Because if The Future tells us anything, it's that we really don't know what the future holds.