The Future (2011)

dir. Miranda July

In their write-up, the Village Voice opened “Does Miranda July know how annoying she is?” only to retreat to a position of almost unmitigated awe at her second and most recent film. I would contend that this isn’t so much the issue as why exactly July is annoying. Her public image isn’t helped much by trailers which play up her worst tendencies, such as this one.

What is it that’s so annoying about July? Despite what is suggested by the trailer, the inhuman capacity for all things twee and inane questions, what is actually annoying about July is her endless self-involvement, the same reason she seems to capture much the same audience as Woody Allen. In The Future, every character is valued only to the extent to which they represent expressive opportunities or alternate avenues for the July character, whose presence is the center of the narrative. This in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that the other characters and situations are so poorly imagined that she creates a world which, despite clever inventions and the bouts of magical realism, is incredibly claustrophobic.

Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are a couple who have settled into a humble but comfortable existence. They look to adopt a sick cat who sometimes addresses the camera directly in monologues which are unnecessary and make it hard to take any of the other goings on seriously. As other reviewers have pointed out, and as July makes exceedingly obvious, the cat represents a child. The couple has child anxiety, and in a later painfully self-absorbed sequence, two acquaintances of Sophie show up first pregnant and after a cut have children. They and their children exist only to make Sophie insecure, and if we’re to take the scene as reflecting a subjective perspective on Sophie’s part, shows that she was probably a shitty friend to these people, as she sees them in a state of caricature that could make David Lynch cringe.

Sophie and Jason split up and move onto new partners. Sophie moves in with a cartoonish man who represents suburban comfort and already has a child. Jason, to further emphasize the asexual presence he has in his scenes with Sophie, becomes friends with a mysteriously wise old man who writes dirty limericks. Both of them are poorly fleshed out archetypes who do little to justify the feelings of wistfulness July seems keen to impart. Jason’s friend is a two dimensional “spirited old man” type which one can see much more compassionately and imaginatively explored in the work of John O’Brien. Jason’s old man seems less sketched from life than from absent minded memories of watching Vernon Florida.

July then, having already trapped viewers in this fraudulent tone, then manages to underscore her completely farcical sense of priorities. Jason gets a job with a group going door to door selling trees in order to combat the effects of global warming. When he realizes he and Sophie have lost what they once had, he offers one person who opens their door to him an unsolicited monologue on a building seen right before being destroyed with a wrecking ball. One is left to ponder whether he’s referring to global warming or his relationship to Sophie, until it sinks in that global warming has only been invoked as a metaphor for the disintegration of their relationship. The implied equivocation of the two things is absurd and to someone concerned about global warming (as we all should be) offensive in its narcissistic solipsism.

In fairness it should be mentioned that July gets the mechanics of the cinema. Color and repetitions and language is used clearly and concisely, which unfortunately leaves that much less of a buffer between the audience and July’s ridiculous adventures in paranoid self-involvement.

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