Is there such thing as a sincerely calculated naïveté? Or put another way, does Miranda July have any idea of how annoying she is?
On the basis of The Future, writer/filmmaker/performance artist July's second feature, I'd guess she must. A fabricator of her own screen image, July — the high priestess of quirk — has a lineage that traces back to art-world pop star Laurie Anderson, muscular mind-tripper Yvonne Rainer, and the original psychodramatist Maya Deren. Even more than Anderson, the 37-year-old July is an unabashed cutie pie, seemingly determined to play the eternal permanently precocious ingénue, yet with a degree of ironic self-awareness.
One minute into The Future, an arch, scratchy little voice attributed to Paw Paw the cat but unmistakably belonging to the filmmaker asks, "Have you ever been outside?" Seldom have I felt so directly addressed. The urge to bolt the screening room was overwhelming. July's first feature, the irritating yet hard-to-hate 2005 Camera d'Or winner Me and You and Everyone We Know, began in similar fashion.
Jason (Hamish Linklater, known to Shakespeare in the Park patrons for some memorable clowning) and Sophie (July), a somewhat depressed, marginally droll, eminently swattable couple of early 30-somethings, tiff and riff around their Los Angeles apartment, feasting on minor misunderstandings and imagining their dotage. A wide-eyed space child with a pale, pre-Raphaelite quality, Sophie teaches modern dance to 3-year-olds. This wistful, tentative, somewhat wilted flower is not without her mystery: Is she an intentionally comic character? Is her morning salutation ("Hi person") meant to be charming? Jason, who does computer-tech support from home, has a bird's-nest hairdo and an even more frightened look on his face. More than symbiotic, they're virtual twins who have resolved to change their life together by adopting a cat — a problem cat with a questionable future.
Paw Paw will require total care. The expectant couple will have to wait a month for her and, if they change their mind, the kitty will be put down. To prepare for Paw Paw, Sophie and Jason quit their jobs. She resolves to create a new dance to post on YouTube every day; he resolves to help save the planet, going door to door soliciting money for the Greenpeace-like Tree by Tree. Meanwhile, we are privy to grateful Paw Paw's consciousness—she's patiently waiting and even counting the days.
The Future is transparently a movie about having a child, as well as about being one. Thwarted in her dance-a-day project, Sophie awkwardly seduces a 50-ish single dad. Marshall (David Warshofsky) is even clumsier than Jason and no less dull but at least he's a "man," with a home in the Valley and a 6-year-old daughter named Gabriella. Sophie seems to enjoy her childlike affair. She is even able to establish a fragile connection with Gabriella, who has busied herself digging a grave in the backyard. (Jason, meanwhile, quits his idealistic new job in despair and plaintive Paw Paw dreams of her new life.)
The movie's final act is complicated by a metaphoric toy chest of New Age tropes (a Sophie doppelgänger in the form of an enchanted T-shirt; an elderly, advice-giving man in the moon), as well as sundry parallel worlds and alternate lives. July is something of a magician, and somewhere amid the inability to stop time, the finality of unborn children, the failure to protect posterity, the end of romantic love, the limitations of memory, the routine of carelessness, and the futility of expectations, Sophie's (or is it July's?) coy narcissism becomes critical of itself, and her "sadness" turns into something truly sad. In short, I have seen The Future and it's heartbreaking.