Is it just me, or has there been a bit of a backlash against lo-fi, arty, deadpan, vaguely magic realist American movies of late? A few years ago self-consciously offbeat films by geekily hip directors such as Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry seemed to be all the rage, and many of them were pretty damn good as well, once you got past the general slacker too-cool-for-school vibe, but now, in this new age of austerity and social disintegration, it feels like the appetite is more for gritty realism on one hand or unchallenging escapism on the other. If I’m right, and I confess I haven’t spent that much time or effort whipping this theory into shape, then the prospects for Miranda July’s new film The Future may not be that glowing, as it falls squarely into the sub-genre defined by things like Being John Malkovich, without really bringing anything particularly interesting or new to the party.
The Future concerns itself with a thirty-something couple, Sophie and Jason, played by Hamish Linklater and July herself, who find their relationship reaches a crisis point after they make the decision to adopt a sick cat. It turns out that there will be a waiting period of 30 days before they can collect the animal (the film is in fact narrated by the cat from inside its cage at the rehoming centre), which gives them time to realise that their lives are about to enter a new and more committed phase. Like July’s previous film Me And You And Everyone We Know the narrative here is pretty stripped back and is just there really as a starting point for the lead characters to get all introspective and self-explorey before embarking on unconventional and unpredictable encounters with unlikely new acquaintances. While there are parts which are funny and enough surreal elements to let you know this is a heightened reality you’re being presented with the overall mood is actually quite sombre, melancholy even, which is a relief as this project could easily have come off as hopelessly self-indulgent if the “quirky” card had been overplayed. July makes for a convincing oddball and Linklater is very likeable in what could have been a nerdy and bloodless role, though I suspect the test on where you stand on this movie is whether you’re able to stomach the high purry voice July uses for the voiceovers from the cat. I didn’t mind the film – it certainly caught a mood, featured some pleasing details (I did really like the expressive props used for the cat’s paws) and importantly didn’t go on too long – but it all felt a bit, well, inconsequential. Is there still room for a bit of navel-gazing in these harsh times?