Is there such a thing as sincerely calculated naiveté? Or put another way, does Miranda July have any idea how annoying she is?
Judging by The Future, writer/filmmaker/performance artist July's second feature, I guess she must. A fabricator of her own screen image, July — the high priestess of quirk — is an unabashed cutie-pie, seemingly determined to play the eternally precocious ingénue. At the same time, The Future hints at a degree of ironic self-awareness on the part of the 37-year-old artist otherwise unmatched.
One minute into the film, an arch, scratchy little voice attributed to Paw Paw the cat, but unmistakably belonging to the filmmaker, poses the question, "Have you ever been outside?" Seldom have I felt so directly addressed. The urge to bolt the screening room was overwhelming.
starring Miranda July, Hamish Linklater, and David Warshofsky. Written and directed by Miranda July. Opens Friday Regal Cinemas South Beach, 1120 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-674-6766; regmovies.com.
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Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (July), are a somewhat depressed, marginally droll, eminently swattable couple of early 30-somethings. They tiff and riff around their L.A. 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 — in fact, a problem cat with a questionable future.
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.
The movie's final act is complicated by a metaphoric toy chest of new-age tropes, as well as sundry parallel worlds, alternate lives, and second personalities. 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 a criticism of itself, and her "sadness" turns into something truly sad. In short, I have seen The Future, and it's heartbreaking.