A Future You and Me
by James Killough
The second time I saw You, Me and Everyone We Know I really hated it. The problem was, we now owned the DVD. And we owned it on my recommendation.
That was the thing about living above the discount DVD and bookseller Fopp in Covent Garden. With DVDs at £3 to £5 each, we just went downstairs and bought them. So as the credits were rolling, Jonathan said with no small amount of disgust, “I’m surprised you liked that. It’s the kind of film I would think you’d hate.”
And he was right, of course; normally I’m allergic to American quirky chatty indie Sundance Festival-type films. But when I first saw YMAEWK (the acronym is certainly evocative in a gooey Kabbalistic sort of way), I loved it. That’s because I saw it in LA and somehow that made all the difference because that’s where it’s set. And it’s just too hard to explain why Hollyweird is so weird unless you live here for long enough to become infected with its weirdness, which writer-director-fine artist Miranda July captures to perfection.
But sitting there in stark, bleak, eccentric-but-not-weird London watching the credits roll, July just seemed inane, childish, distinctly un-clever. I might be having the same lapse of judgment about her new film The Future, but I’m going to be brave and say that I liked this one even more. Much more. In fact, when I texted my friend Chris after I left the cinema, I called it “brilliant.”
July is certainly polarizing, which isn’t a bad thing for an artist to be, and, like her or not, she is an artist. When I suggested Chris go and see it, in no small part because the film reminded me of him in some very contorted way that I’m not sure is actually relevant, he shot back, “God, I would rather swallow a revolver.” Considering that Chris is a major Woody Allen and John Cassavetes fan, I tried to persuade him otherwise; The Future owes something to Allen, not much to Cassavetes, perhaps more to David Lynch.
“I’ve seen every piece of work she’s ever made,” came the reply. “It’s all horrible.”
Chris is referring to an exhibition he saw of July’s fine art, which is conceptual, a form that is often polarizing. What has always separated modern art from pre-modern art for me is the amount of thought that goes into the former, as opposed to skill that went into the latter. And, whether you like her work or not, July certainly puts a tremendous amount of thought into both her art and her filmmaking.
The Future is the anatomy of a relationship grown too close. Judging by the trailer, I don’t think I’m giving much away by revealing that it’s the anatomy of an affair as well. A couple have thirty days before they can take home a wounded rescue cat from a shelter. The cat has renal failure as well as a damaged paw, which means they will never be able to leave it alone; one of them will always have to be there. This cat, their child, will cement their bond for good, and that freaks them both out. Both thirty-five, they lunge into a pre-mid-life crisis, together, in sync with each other, but desperate to be apart and remain individuals. Maybe.
This would seem to be almost enervatingly boring, and it is, at first. Both July’s character and that of her partner, played by Hamish Linklater (cast to look like a male version of her), have the most humdrum jobs imaginable: a failed experimental dancer, she teaches movement and ballet to small children; he is a remote tech support specialist working from home. Their despair at being ordinary, of being unable to accomplish anything other than the excruciatingly mundane, makes you squirm, and that’s the point.
It takes a while to buy into July’s quirky world, and she is in no hurry to drag you there, although she is very insistent, and often quite funny. July is engaged in an extended game of pretend with herself, the loner, somewhat insane child in the playground talking to herself and her imaginary friends. In that respect, The Future is nearly solipsistic, July’s journey autodidactic: Hamish doesn’t just look and act like her twin, he doesn’t really seem to be a boyfriend at all, just a manifestation of July’s persona; the cat, Paw-Paw, voiced by July and for the most part portrayed as a puppet she is manipulating, is likewise no more than an extension of July’s make-believe.
At first you don’t want July’s character to be fully self-expressed. She doesn’t deserve it, she’s crap, and that’s the point. You’re, like, get off the stage, go do something else, anything else, you suck. And July replies, Ok, I know, I will. And this is me getting off the stage and what happens to me when I do.
It’s a nifty pretzel.
As you are ambling along with the narrative, midway through you do start to wonder if this isn’t indeed “horrible,” as Chris described it. Then, BAM! it suddenly veers off into brilliance. It’s as if July is coasting along the American quirky chatty indie Sundance Festival-type road and then jumps the rails into David Lynch territory. Unlike her first film, YMAEWK, which was tentative and shy about being artistic, July is absolutely fearless and assured when she makes this move, and it works.
The scene where July does a Martha Graham-inspired interpretive dance in a yellow t-shirt inscribed with “c’est la nuit” (it is night) is in itself, if taken out of the film as a stand-alone, one of the more flawless pieces of video art I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if having the neck of the t-shirt, which upside down ends up between her legs, was intended to look like an enlarged clitoris or whether it was a happy accident that emerged from filming it—I’m inclined to think it was deliberate—but Graham would definitely have admired the sequence.
And suddenly you see that July is indeed a worthy artist who does deserve to be fully self-expressed, to be watched, to allow her thoughts to infect yours; she’s completely flipped your expectations.
(A note for Eric Baker, our token Str8 who objected to my muff-bashing in yesterday’s piece: it’s been decades since I’ve actually seen a vagina up close, so it may well be that the yellow t-shirt doesn’t end up looking like an enlarged clitoris, but something else, like labia or whatever. In any case, the last time my face was close enough to see a woman’s parts properly, I was thinking I needed wedges of lemon and an oyster fork, not about anatomy class.)
Professionally speaking, it’s rather disheartening that an LA-based American artist has to go to Europe to get her financing, which is what the opening credits would seem to indicate. But as I’ve said repeatedly in other posts, it’s extremely difficult to close indie film deals these days, and no doubt July’s strongest following is in Germany and France. Another American indie film I am tangentially involved with, which stars one of our major actors, is also securing all of its money from the UK, of all places. I guess it’s comforting to know someone out there supports us, even if we don’t.
In light of the above lament about the state of American art cinema, which is distinct from indie film, I’m giving The Future a Wow rating, even though properly speaking it’s somewhere between Nice and Wow. I’m just too lazy to comp up a new graphic for the in-betweens.