“The fault,” Cassius tells Brutus in Julius Caesar, “is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Just as the fault is not in the moon, but in himself, when Jason (Hamish Linklater) freezes time in Miranda July’s film The Future, and supplicates the nearest celestial object to let him off the hook. His wife, Sophie (July), looks to be paralyzed in perdition on their bedroom floor—the secret she needs to confess locked inside her like a tear stuck in its duct. But the moon, bright and blue as the high-beams the director calls eyes, cannot reverse the process; it speaks to him as it shimmers in space, like the guardian angel in It’s A Wonderful Life, but it cannot come off its heavenly pedestal to help out a brother in need. Even magic realists have to draw the line somewhere.
Well—somewhere further than a talking cat. Paw-Paw is the “X” on the couple’s calendar; if she can last out a month-long waiting period, they can adopt her. She is their only commitment, the event that will decide their fates forever and usher in the next stage of their lives; she is their only anchor in the rising tide of time, and the only object with which they can take its measure. Luckily for them, they can’t hear her talk—that onus is on us. (As she rasped on the voiceover, like an Ewok blues singer, I realized how much we take Bill Murray as Garfield for granted.) One can almost smell the stale ramen noodles in the walls of their flat. A self-conscious deadpan, favoring deadness over panning, is the order of the day—though the passivity is pointed. Jason and Sophie live in a static environment that recalls early Jim Jarmusch or Kevin Smith, with their underachieving heroes; but this is slackerdom gone sour, lived in unhappily, and past 30. And I think it may be crucial to note the difference in time (now) and place (L.A.), and, if gendered assumptions are your thing, the presence of a female sensibility.
In her profile of July—published, quite punctually, in July—Katrina Onstad elegantly sums up the resistance to the director’s work: “Twee fascinations with childhood innocence can mask an unwillingness to tackle life’s darker quandaries.” And the flaccid-faced boys in Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)—July’s first and previous film—do indeed seem to be submerged in masks; their stares are inexpressively sad and unaccountably burdened. Fifteen is rather early in life to rediscover one’s innocence, but a boy that age has life lessons to learn from an even younger girl. Yet contrast this mawkishness with the subplot involving his eight-year-old brother. After seducing a woman in an anonymous chat room by inviting her to “poop back and forth” with him, they meet in person, on a park bench. After the music swells, he pecks her on the cheek and scurries off. What seems at first to be a light-hearted curveball becomes a profoundly sad moment; the woman is more alone than ever, her innocence and “corruption” inexorably linked. Could it be that July’s twee fascinations mask a latent willingness?