In Miranda July’s second feature, The Future, the quirky performance artist casts herself as a dance teacher who has difficulty dancing when she’s by herself, because whenever she starts to move her head, she gets distracted by the fine details of the room around her, and whenever she starts to move her body, so many possibilities open up that she freezes. That’s also a fair description of July’s filmmaking, which is preoccupied with the minuscule almost to the point of being trifling. July’s debut feature, Me And You And Everyone We Know, for example, contrasted people in real pain with emotionally stunted ninnies, and seemed to hold both in distressingly equal regard.
On the surface, The Future seems eminently mockable. July stars opposite Hamish Linklater (from the underrated sitcom The New Adventures Of Old Christine, and not incidentally, a July look-alike), who plays her equally immobile boyfriend. When the couple agrees to adopt a sickly cat with a wounded paw—a cat that narrates its own scenes—they worry that even this small amount of responsibility will impede their ability to do all the awesome things they currently aren’t doing. So they decide to make the most of the remaining month while the kitty is convalescing at the shelter. They quit their jobs, disconnect the Internet, and pledge to remain open to whatever the universe throws at them.
The Future’s main characters are, undeniably, dopes. But July and Linklater turn their ineptitude into a funny running joke, which becomes surprisingly affecting in the second half, as July decides to jump-start her life by having an affair with a wealthy suburbanite, while Linklater decides to freeze time. (It makes sense in context.) The Future is full of amusing, lovely little moments that are just a degree removed from being too cute, whether July is being stalked by her favorite comfy shirt, or following a little girl’s plan to sleep in a hole to its logical endpoint. The Future is elliptical, but never shaggy. July is focused throughout, mediating on movement—the seduction and fear of it—while encouraging the audience to care about a pair of do-nothings who like to preserve the broken. There’s even a creeping level of tension in the movie, as July and Linklater decide what to do when it’s their relationship that’s busted. Do they toss it out? Or just tape up the frayed wires and get a few more not entirely satisfying years out of it? In July’s constrained world, the resolution to that question qualifies as a nail-biter.