Miranda July takes “twee” about as far as she can, and then some, with “The Future,” her latest, most melancholy romance. The director of “Me and You and Everyone We Know” transcends cute and crosses into precious with this film, an unhappy blend of magical realism, alternative futures and “Cats.”
By “Cats” I mean the stage musical, famed for its mournful signature ballad “Memory,” sung by an old cat sadly recalling her former glory. “Paw Paw” doesn’t sing, but she narrates this tale of a love affair under strain. She has been rescued, with a badly injured paw and renal failure. A couple (July and Hamish Linklater) promise to come back to get her when she’s released at the end of the month.
“We’re overcrowded and we euthanize,” the vet threatens. But the couple see this short term commitment (they figure the cat will die within months) as sacred.
“We’re going to love you and take care of you for the rest of your life.”
Then they get home and do the math. Maybe the cat won’t die. They’re trapped in their LA apartment, trapped in their current lives and current relationship. They’re doomed because if the cat lives five years, they’ll be 40 and life, as they see it, ends at 40.
Acting like the condemned, both Sophie and Jason take stock of their priorities, quit their jobs and derail their lives. The film follows Jason into a half-hearted embrace of environmentalism and Sophie into a bizarre affair with a total stranger.
And every so often, we’re updated with poignant narration from the cat from “the cage-torium,” her prison where she awaits their return. We only see puppet kitty paws (one bandaged) and hear July, in a cracked and breaking voice, she is “waiting for my real life to begin.” Those cloying but also heartbreaking moments are jarring in the middle of a movie about people this boringly self-absorbed.
July was onto something here with these semi-serious characters who find themselves turning totally serious thanks to their commitment to this cat. Early scenes, where Sophie admits “I’ve been saving up to do something really incredible for the past 15 years,” capture, comically, the melancholy of a life that’s gotten away from her. She’s a dancer who teaches tiny dancers in a “movement class,” that’s basically a day care. Jason’s moment of “green” clarity consists of his admission that he’s not much of an outdoors person, but “I’m glad the outside’s there,” suggests a man deciding to walk the walk after absent-mindedly talking the talk.
But the movie, opening Friday at The Enzian, sucks the life right out of you, with Sophie’s quietly desperate and utterly random affair and Jason’s playing hooky with an old man who puts odd adds in the free classifieds for junk nobody would want. Linklater, of TV’s “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” pitches his downcast performance to match July’s. Not a lot of energy there.
So while the film’s set-up and possibly profound themes promise a lighter tone or at least a more questioning one, the unfolding situations (fantasy sequences) and especially their performances of them strip away hope and heart. Like this summer’s other pondering and sometimes ponderous pictures, “The Tree of Life” and “Another Earth,” this film, opening Friday at the Enzian, makes us dread the future, not hope for it.
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content
Cast: Miranda July (Sophie), Hamish Linklater (Jason)
Credits: Written and directed by Miranda July. A Roadside Attractions release. Running time: 1:31.