This week in movies you missed: What looked like an indie twee fest is actually the saddest film I have seen this year. And I have seen both Shame and Melancholia.
(Sidenote: If you want to see Melancholia on the big screen, hie thee to Merrill's Roxy right now. It may not linger, unlike Kirsten Dunst's character's depression.)
What You Missed
The Future is the second movie written and directed by Miranda July, who is known for play writing, dance, performance art and stories that get published in The New Yorker. As this New York Times profile explains, her success has sparked more than a little envy among thirtysomething struggling-artist types who find her work more precious than substantial.
The protagonists are Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (July), two nonfamous thirtysomething struggling-artist types who live in L.A. together. They are considering a huge step: adopting a cat from the Humane Society. The cat they've chosen has renal failure and a life expectancy of about six months, making this a manageable starter commitment in their view.
But when they're told the cat might survive for years in a loving home, Jason and Sophie panic. In the month they've been given before their pet goes home with them, they try to exploit what they see as their last chance to explore their options before they turn 40. ("Forty is the same as 50," remarks Jason, "and after that everything is loose change.")
Sophie quits her job at a dance school and embarks on an ephemeral internet project called "30 Days, 30 Dances." Jason ditches his tech support gig and starts working door to door for an enviro nonprofit. Both try to listen to the universe and jump on any chance encounter that could lead to a new life pathway. Results are mixed.
The film is narrated by Paw-Paw the cat, sitting in his cage at the Humane Society. Paw-Paw has already explored various life pathways when he lived in the wild — or, as he puts it, in "the darkness that is not appropriate to talk about." He just wants a home where someone will pet him.
Why You Missed It
The Future played for a week at Montpelier's Savoy Theater, so some of you may have caught it. Nationally, it did not set the box office on fire.
Should You Keep Missing It?
It's simple, really. If the above description just makes you think, "UGH, I already hate these characters! What a couple of hipster ninnies!" and nothing else, then The Future is not for you.
But if the description makes you laugh and then think, "UGH, I already hate these characters! What a couple of hipster ninnies!" and then think, "Wait a second — why did I laugh? Do I relate to those people?" ... well, if those are the contradictory thoughts coursing through your mind, you may need to see the film.
The Future isn't a film to be taken 100 percent literally (you may have picked that up from the talking cat part). As it proceeds, it becomes increasingly surreal, but not in random or pointlessly whimsical ways. Oh, no. The metaphors here are like the ones in Charlie Kaufman movies (remember the service that erases your ex from your brain in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?). They need to be goofy to hide truths that are hard to face, or "not appropriate to talk about."
So, yeah. You probably already figured out that cat is not just a cat.
And, like a Kaufman movie or a Lorrie Moore story, The Future will either connect with you on an intuitive level, or confuse and annoy you. Its subject is people who are themselves (and are to themselves) confusing and annoying. They suffer from a case of too many options and inflated expectations. "I've been gearing up to do something incredible for the past 15 years," Sophie laments. "I should have been a world leader by now," sighs Jason.
The two of them fantasize about having superpowers (as they sit on the couch, each surfing on a separate laptop), but find it almost impossible to commit to doing anything. Even the options they eventually explore are more passive than active. Moving as if underwater, engaged with life only in flitting, fitful ways, these two are caricatures, but they are far from unfamiliar.
As July put it in an interview with the A.V. Club: "For me, it was like 'This is all the parts of myself and my friends I’m the most uncomfortable with.'"
Full disclosure and potential spoiler: This movie eventually ripped my heart out and stomped on it, much as Hans Christian Andersen's tale about the Christmas tree did when I was a kid. If dark existential parables told from the points of view of animals, trees or inanimate objects really get you, watch out.
Verdict: For me, The Future is one of the better films of the year so far. If you can stand to, watch it along with Beginners, another you-probably-missed-it film that is gathering critics' award nominations. It has an unforgettable performance from Christopher Plummer as Ewan McGregor's gay dad, and it's the second-saddest movie I saw this year.
Not coincidentally, perhaps, Beginners was written and directed by Mike Mills, who is married to July. One spouse made a movie about people who can't face the future because they don't want to stop believing in their own unlimited potential. The other made one about people who, despite being well out of their youth, are still beginners at life. Are they trying to tell us something? Or themselves?