’The Future’ looks, well, depressing

This quirky, insightful dramedy is a cautionary tale for aimless thirty-somethings
From left to right: Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (Miranda July). Photo courtesy of Mongrel Media.

Perhaps you’ve met this couple. They are attractive, quirky thirty-somethings who are unmarried, despite years of going steady and playing house. They haven’t made up their minds about their careers, about kids, or, it seems, about each other. They seem to fear getting old and, as a result, they resist growing up. They fill their apartment (tree fort) with quirky things, and their relationship (play date) with quirky events, and they seem content to play dress up while their peers drop off one by one into ‘real life’—building careers, buying houses, and making babies. The Future is a tale of this couple.

Written and directed by Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know), The Future is a touching and intelligent cautionary tale that should be mandatory viewing for aimless thirty-somethings. It follows in the footsteps of movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (notably, they were both scored by composer Jon Brion) in its mixture of a totally bizarre conceit—in this case, a talking cat who narrates—with believable emotional drama.

The film follows one month in the life of Sophie (played by July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), a couple of 35-year-olds with matching hair and Macbooks. They both have unfulfilling jobs—he’s some kind of IT support guy who works from a headset at home and she is an overqualified children’s dance instructor. After finding an injured stray cat and taking it to the vet, the couple is told they must wait thirty days before they can bring her home. When they realize that domesticating a wild cat will, at the same time, domesticate their relationship—they panic. “We’ll be forty in five years,” Sophie laments. “Forty is basically 50,” Jason adds. “And then after 50, the rest is just loose change. Not quite enough to get anything you really want.” Yikes. They decide to spend the next month living like it was their last.

The events that unfold produce some good chuckles—both July and Linklater, playing awkward but lovable weirdos, have fine comedic timing. But their respective odysseys paint a pretty bleak picture of what happens when you try to rush finding meaning in life. Sophie is paralyzed by her desire to be exceptional and is ultimately more concerned with being accepted in a conventional way. “I wish I was just one notch prettier. I’m right on the edge,” she says at one point. “I have to make my case with each new person.” Jason discovers that life is long, and often, well, just ordinary. He’s disappointed with his shot at carpe diem, and seems to be resigned to the fact that he’s “not as smart” as he hoped he’d be. Their existential crises are disturbing—why can’t these two moderately talented, healthy, attractive people just get with it? July’s characters just seem to be coasting, forgetting that eventually they’ll have to work hard to get what they want in life. If they can figure out what they want, that is.

July, who was recently profiled in the New York Times, is sometimes accused of producing work too precious and twee. I haven’t seen her other films, but if that has been the accusation, I would argue that, unlike her fictional counterpart, she has matured. With its cutesy cat narration and stylized look, The Future may seem a little goofy, but it’s the kind of goofiness that gently delivers a serious dose of reality. It seems to say: if you’re fumbling at the growing up thing—stop indulging your inner child. For those viewers in the midst of saying goodbye to their twenties, it might even hit a little too close to home.