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Combining magical realism and brutal truth about relationships in a heady and wondrous mixture, Miranda July's The Future is both an apt follow-up to her 2005 Sundance debut Me And You And Everyone We Know and a major step forward for the filmmaker. The movie is a simple story about a long-term relationship that suffers unbearable pressure when the Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) make the seemingly easy decision to adopt an ailing cat. With one month before the cat is healthy enough to take home, Jason and Sophie both balk at the impending responsibility and impulsively quit their jobs and commit to living well for the next 30 days.
For Jason, that involves an equally impulsive decision to become a volunteer for an organization that raises money to plant trees in Los Angeles, repeatedly unable to actually quit. For Sophie, it starts with a YouTube project to create 30 dances in 30 days, but morphs into an unlikely affair with an older stranger (David Warshofsky) who leads a comfortable suburban life so distant from Sophie and Jason's cobbled-together artsy existence. Oh, and once in a while we get some narration from the cat, waiting for Sophie and Jason to pick him up from the vet and dreaming of what life with them could be like. The cat is represented by two puppet feet and July's own crackly, cat-like voice, and is by far the cutesiest thing in the film, but quite possibly a dealbreaker for some viewers. Even if I promise you that the talking cat works better than it sounds, I know there are plenty of you who will run screaming the moment it appears; fair enough, but it's your loss.
The film's surrealism ramps up in the third act, when a confrontation between the lovers stops dead in time and each of their lives spin off into parallel possibilities, one involving a talking moon, another involving a yellow t-shirt inching along suburban streets and eventually consuming Sophie whole. But all of the tricks and flights of fancy-- yes, even the puppet cat feet-- are rooted in both the truth in these characters and relationships in general. Anyone has wished to stop time during a particularly brutal fight, but Jason is actually able to do it; everyone has a totem from their past that reminds them of unfulfilled potential, but Sophie is physically haunted by it. July constructs her world so carefully that all of this and more seems possible, but the story never gets away from its central relationship, all the potential as well as disappointments held within it.
Briskly paced and very funny, The Future sneaks up on you with its weight, landing a series of devastating punches near the end that also don't belie the film's witty assessment of human faults. July and Linklater have an easy, agreeable rapport that further sells the film's oddities, and as both writer and director July possesses a confidence that makes each new scene a treat to see unfold. The Future is among the best films I saw at Sundance this year, combining avant garde art and the powerful pulse of love in a way that only July can. It is set for release later this year from Roadside Attractions.