There’s a link to a more formal review at the end here.
I loved Miranda July’s debut – Me and You and Everyone We Know. It had this really absurdist sense of humor that fit in nicely with a kind of new-age/hipster-philosophical inquisitiveness. It had its flaws, including a bit too much rumination, but in the end it was a really poignant film. Her follow-up, The Future, is even better.
July, who wrote, directed and starred, plays Sophie, who lives with her long-time boyfriend Jason (Hamish Linklater). My review at the end goes into more detail on the plot and on some of the more intriguing moments in the narrative, so here I’ll talk more about some of the small things.
For one, July utilizes a cat (Paw-Paw, whom she voices) as a device. Paw-Paw delivers us the voiceover that drives the story, but not in the way you might imagine. If you think of voiceover (well, if I think of voiceover), I think of classic usage: Bogart telling us the trials and tribulations of his investigation concurrent with us watching it happen. This is more of a stylization device. We can still understand the story without it, but with Bogart’s (in this example) voice constantly in our ears we identify more with him as protagonist and relate the style of the film to the hard-boiled novels from which it is derived. There are other styles. Take, for example, a Royal Tenenbaums, where Alec Baldwin acts as “storyteller” and “voice of god.” We never see him in the film, he speaks in the third person-omniscient, and the montage style filmmaking that most often accompanies his voice points us more towards pages turning in a novel than to a less literal style of movie-making.
Both of these above examples have at least one thing in common: they’re novelistic. Without boring with more, alternate cases, let’s go back to The Future (pun definitely intended). Paw-Paw’s voiceover is far from novelistic. That’s not to say that it’s alone in that category, but it does immediately endow the talker (in this case a cat) with a certain degree of independence, as though they haven’t been torn from the pages and are wholly original. Further, Paw-Paw’s VO is first person. It’s limited. And it’s very hypothetical and almost whimsical. In short, the VO does not drive the story in that it comments on the action in the greater plot. It doesn’t drive it in offering information that is unknown to us otherwise. In fact, Paw-Paw doesn’t really repeat new information. She (he?) talks in circles, wishes for its owners to come, and eventually (SORT OF A SPOILER) talks about its own death.
What do we do with this type of VO/narration? (Aside: Some people like to distinguish between voiceover and narration. I think at times its a worthwhile venture, other times they can be, and should be, interchangeable). Here’s an exercise: what do we lose if we take it out? We still have the drama between Sophie and Jason. We still have July’s tongue-in-cheek humor. We still have her deceptively simple time structure. And we still have her themes drawn out across a believable and interesting story. So…do we actually lose anything?
Luckily, the answer is definitely ‘yes’. Paw-Paw’s VO is the rare device in a film that works despite its basic lack of contribution to anything pertaining to story. It is entirely thematic and symbolic. July’s film works significantly on both of these levels. Without Paw-Paw’s VO we lose a tiny voice that asks for our attention, that reminds us that, while life is moving (or slowing down), other events, deemed less important given the small space they occupy, are also moving. It’s the idea of a collective consciousness or, more simply put, of time’s effect on everything and everybody. July posits: time is and is not a unique experience. Everyone experiences it in their own way, but everyone experiences it. And in the end, it moves towards the same goal. In July’s film a couple, a cat, the moon, a small girl who buries herself to her neck, a kind of sleazy middle-aged man, and an animated T-shirt all experience the same longing, desire, confusion, and want that time yields.
Link to review: