For fans of Miranda July’s singular, surreal debut, “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” the future has long held enormous promise: At some point, we knew, this sui generis storyteller would return and grace us with another dose of her delightfully peculiar worldview. Now that “The Future” has become the present, July doesn’t disappoint, examining a Los Angeles couple whose decision to adopt a cat motivates them to overhaul their lives completely. Prominent exposure at the Sundance and Berlin fests all but assures a respectable specialty release.
Shifting attention from the difficulties of finding a connection (a la “Me and You”) to the vagaries of trying to maintain an adult relationship, writer-director July builds “The Future” around ideas of insecurity and uncertainty, casting herself as Sophie, a children’s dance instructor who isn’t much of a dancer herself. Sophie and Jason (Hamish Linklater, endearingly awkward) have been dating for five years and are ready to take the next step, agreeing to bring a cat into their home — not just any cat, either, but a wounded stray named Paw Paw with a life expectancy of somewhere between six months and five years.
Paw Paw narrates, a whimsical choice made possible through a series of melancholy monologues, pantomimed by two oversized front paws (one of them in a plaster cast) at the nearby animal hospital. Sophie and Jason must wait 30 days for Paw Paw’s leg to heal, a timeframe that inspires them to behave like cancer patients who’ve just learned they have one month to live.
They both quit their jobs; Jason starts hunting for cosmic signs in the PennySaver, while Sophie spontaneously starts an affair with a man (David Warshofsky) who makes promotional signs for a living. While these developments do not bode well for the couple’s future pet-rearing skills, they do support a series of amusing episodes, including an encounter with a sage old man (Joe Putterlik) whose home furnishings uncannily match the couple’s own choice of decor — a sneak peek of what’s in store for them, perhaps?
Of course, not all auds see the charm in a grown woman who clings to an oversized T-shirt like it’s some kind of safety blanket (which yields perhaps the most outlandish payoff). July risks alienating a certain contingent with every twee idea she throws at the screen, but she’s fearless in her execution, earning hearty laughs throughout as she unveils inventive new ways of tackling the absurdities of life. In one such scene, after failing to launch her own YouTube-based dance project, Sophie accepts a job as receptionist at her old studio, where, instead of imagining herself getting older, she pictures friends’ kids growing up right before her eyes.
When Sophie decides to tell Jason of her infidelity, he responds by freezing time and begging the moon for advice. Though we hope things will turn out right, “The Future” makes no assurances that the couple will stay together or even that the cat will want them when they return. For all the superficial hilarity of July’s approach, a much sadder streak runs deep through the entire film, reinforced by Jon Brion’s score (more tones than melody). Still, it’s curious that this is the feeling she chooses to leave us with in the end.
Instead of building to some grand finale designed to encompass all that has come before, “The Future” remains forward-facing, loose ends and all. There can be no question that the Sophie and Jason seen at the close of the film are completely different from the more childlike versions presented at the outset.