Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Written and Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Pan's_LabyrinthI was inspired to finally watch Pan’s Labyrinth for two related reasons. Firstly, I was recently introduced to del Toro’s fascination with monsters, insects and fairy tales by a travelling exhibit of his at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Secondly, The Shape of Water recently won the Oscar for best picture and del Toro was named best director. I had mixed feelings about this result. I think del Toro deserved the directorial award due to the beautiful world he created. As a script, I felt The Shape of Water fell a bit short: it made it a tad too obvious who was good and who was evil, depriving it of a necessary dose of complexity.

Of course, one way to think of The Shape of Water’s simplicity is to understand it as a fable or a fairy tale, albeit one for a PG-13 audience. del Toro has a clear fascintion with merging the worlds of adults and children. In The Shape of Water, I feel this made the script come up a little short. In the case of Pan’s Labyrinth, however, this quality makes the film the modern classic that it is.

Pan’s Labyrinth opens much like an early Disney movie (the approach parodied in Shrek), in the pages of a book. The reader is Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), roughly ten years old, who is travelling with her mother to live at the home of her stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). The year is 1944 and Vidal is a pro-Franco Spanish officer. Ofelia is insistent that she does not accept him as her father, however, it is unclear if she has any understanding of his politics, and to what degree her loathing of him is simply motivated by her love for her true father. The film’s initial tension is quickly introduced, as Ofelia’s pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) tells her she is too old for fairy tales. Ofelia is, unsurprisingly, not persuaded to give up her stories, and goes on a series of all-too-real fairy tale journeys all the while under the strict eyes of Vidal and her mother (who reluctantly enforces Vidal’s rules).

Ofelia’s refusal to outgrow fairy tales provides a direct connection between the text and its fairy-tale-loving writer. del Toro’s portrayal of Ofelia’s adventure proves that  she is indeed not too old for fairy tales. His approach to doing this, however, is to depict a fairy tale that is not all that kid-friendly. Its major players include a giant toad, a child-eating monster with eyes on its hands, and most importantly, a faun (who, despite the English translation of the film’s title, is not actually the famed Pan). The faun (Doug Jones as the body and Pablo Adán as the voice) is a good character, but he has demonic eyes and is crushingly strict; he’s not exactly the kind of cuddly mentor you’d envision in a kid-friendly fairy tale.

Ofelia’s adventure in fairy tales runs parallel to that of Vidal’s maid, Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) who it turns out is a supporter of anti-Franco rebels. While Ofelia throws herself into the dangerous world of the child-eater, Mercedes makes herself vulnerable to Vidal’s cold, militaristic whims. Vidal’s way of being is characterized by his belief in patriarchal hierarchy, and willingness to brutalize all that get in his way. The co-existence of Ofelia and Mercedes’ horror stories make a number of a narrative points. On the one hand, their implicit connection adds a level of depth to Ofelia’s fairy tales, again sending the message that fairy tales cannot be dismissed as childish. On the other hand, since the parallel between Ofelia and Mercedes’ stories is limited (Ofelia’s magical foes are not blatantly allegorical to real life menaces) del Toro also sends the message that fairy tales can be compelling even if they do not have some meaningful connection to the real world. Finally, the combination of historical and fantastic drama in Pan’s Labyrinth speaks to the agency of children and the liberating effect of imagination. As much as we may like to think they are protected, children can get caught up in real world tragedies. While Ofelia is largely unable to participate or defend herself in the real world conflict, she is able to engage with it in her own way and with much more agency through her heroics in the world of fairy tales.

To get back to my original idea, there are undoubtedly parallels between Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water. Both star silenced protagonists Ofelia (who is too young to be political) and Eliza (who is mute). Both feature sidekicks who are also marginalized, though more able to speak to their conditions than the protagonists: Mercedes (a servant woman), and Zelda (an African-American woman and janitor). Both film’s also have blatantly bad antagonists, whose badness is characterized by their social conservatism. Finally, both films feature double agent doctors. While The Shape of Water’s (portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg) doctor is a more developed character than the original, in all the other cases Pan’s Labyrinth’s characters come out just a little bit richer.

In the context their respective stories, Ofelia’s form of marginalization, thinking-like, dreaming-like and literally being a child makes her more vulnerable, and thus capable of more interesting interactions with her film’s terrors, than Eliza.

Mercedes, unlike Zelda, is not simply a sidekick but a secondary protagonist.

Most importantly, there is a subtle difference between Vidal and Strickland’s portrayal. Strickland is an outright caricature of right-wing badness: everything he says is cold and reactionary. Vidal, however, has just enough moments of vulnerability that rather than coming across as a caricature, he is in fact a portrayal of a certain terrifying, but real way of being. He is not devoid of love, as shown by his tenderness towards his son. Rather, he has simply become accustomed to a world in which all love shown by and towards him, is strictly filtered through the framework of traditionalist patriarchy.

That said, The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth are not the same film, and that difference is best demonstrated through their depictions of monsters (played by Doug Jones). In The Shape of Water, the monster is for all intents and purposes a misunderstood other: one to sympathize with. In Pan’s Labyrinth, we are still supposed to sympathize with some monsters (and certainly relative to the conventionally handsome true monster that is fascism), however, it is a more trying sympathy. We are challenged with the idea that for Ofelia the world of the faun is an escape from her horrible home life, despite the fact that the faun’s world is hardly a pleasant thing to escape to. In another scene (that I cannot describe without spoiling the movie), the faun behaves in a way reminiscent of God in an early biblical story. He gives Ofelia a horrible instruction presenting her with a painful moral conundrum and exposing the absurdity of having to live without safe moral authorities to turn to.

The god-like nature of the faun’s behaviour again contributes to the film’s overall affect of giving Ofelia choices not between a good and a bad situation, but between magical-fear and real-world horrors. Watching a child navigate this scenario is a shocking thing. Ivana Baquero’s performance is remarkable in that we never forget the injustice of what Ofelia has to face as a child, yet we simultaneously accept her as fully qualified hero. Guillermo del Toro may ultimately be remembered for his monsters, however, his writing and directing of fairy-tale loving Ofelia may in fact be his greatest accomplishment.


Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)

Directed by: David Soren Written by: Nicholas Stoller

Captain_Underpants_The_First_Epic_Movie_posterIf you’re an English speaking kid not named Melvin Sneedly chances are you giggled about the name of the planet Uranus at some point. It may be something you’re not proud of now: it’s “low humor” as the villains in Captain Underpants so readily point out, but for kids in roughly the 5-9 age range, it’s wit at its finest. This kind of humor is at the heart of Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series, book which also charm their readers with parodies of the super hero-genre, soft dystopianism, breaking the fourth wall, and puns of varying quality (a favourite of mine comes from the fifth epic novel, Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman in which George or Harold reassures a rabbi they will not cause trouble at their teachers wedding by saying “Silly Rabbi, tricks are for kids.” (that it is possible that Dav Pilkey decided to make Ms. Ribble and/or Mr. Krupp Jewish solely for the purpose of making that joke only makes it better). Perhaps most importantly, the individual books (and the twelve part series) are long enough to allow for the Captain Underpants universe to be quite developed while concise enough to make for light reading.


Kids movies often have to make a decision as to whether they will be a near-exact recreation of their source material (eg the Harry Potter films) or a very loose adaptation (eg Stuart Little). Captain Underpants finds itself on a somewhat odd place in the middle of this spectrum. The characters are exact three-dimensional recreations of Pilkey’s cartoons and their personalities are fairly consistent with what the book offers. The plot, takes somewhat creative liberties however. While the film’s title suggests Captain Underpants may have franchise-style ambitions, “may” is clearly the key word their, as the screenwriters, reasonably, must have decided that each individual book in the series does not contain quite enough content to be a standalone film. The movie instead broadly covers the first four books of the series: it includes the Captain’s origin stories from books one and three, a secondary villain from book two and a primary villain from book four (undoubtedly the villain from those books with the most personality).


The story follows 4th graders George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch) as they try and avoid getting in trouble with their draconian principle Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms), while maintaining their two joie-de-vivres: pranking school officials and co-producing Captain Underpants comics. The comics tell the story of a superhero who is faster than a speeding waistband, more powerful than boxer shorts and able to leap tall buildings without getting a wedgie. Also featured are hyper nerd Melvin Sneedley (Jordan Peele), evil genius Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) and Edith, a cafeteria-lady-in-love (Kristen Schaal).


The film is very strong at the beginning as it brings the novels’ characters to life in great cartoon fashion. Melvin looks charmingly ridiculous when recreated with CGI animation. Krupp’s mechanically sinister smiles are exactly in line with the books’ tone. Nonetheless, there are holes in the film’s execution that suggests there is something about Captain Underpants that cannot be lifted off the page. A mild example of this is when George and Harold interrupt a fight scene to show off their makeshift flip-book action sequences, a fourth-wall breaking tactic that advances plots more naturally in book form, A more pressing example of this is in how the film portrays students other than George and Harold. The film wholeheartedly commits to the idea that George and Harold are liberators of their school’s oppressed students and that their teachers are deeply flawed human beings. This interpretation is not inconsistent with the books per se, and no doubt, Pilkey, marginalized by his teachers due to his ADHD and dyslexia is highly sympathetic to George and Harold. Nonetheless, I feel the film goes a bit too far in its portrayal of George and Harold as unequivocal heroes. Part of the giggly-thrill I got from reading these books as a kid was in knowing that George and Harold were trouble makers, and I felt some of that charm was lost in the film (especially with its somewhat moralistic ending). Furthermore, in the books there is a possibility that George and Harold’s perspective is unreliable, and that the other students don’t mind the teachers nearly as much as the two heroes do. Given that the Captain Underpants books champion imagination, it would not even be a slight against George and Harold to understand their imaginings of their teachers as villains as exaggerated.

That said, I have some reservation about my disappointment. Writing for Slate Jessica Roake defended Captain Underpants as a series of books that kids could see as truly their own. If it takes that sense of ownership for kids to embrace reading, than why should adults knock it? I thus acknowledge that it is not truly my place to rate how good a piece of Captain Underpants media is. If a kid out there is reading things, I hope you find my friendly criticism to be in the spirit of the series and all things pre-shrunk and cottony!


Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Directed by: Matt Spicer Written by: Spicer and David Brandon Smith

Ingrid_Goes_WestIs this the Aubrey Plaza role to break Aubrey Plaza roles? That opening sentence is called a hook; it gets your attention. Ingrid Goes West works much the same way. We meet Ingrid (Plaza), her murderous eyes under the shadow of a hoodie, as she vengefully lashes out at one of her peers in a pang of Instagram-induced jealousy. We never fully come to understand the origins of this behaviour, but as audiences we experience it in two related ways: 1) as a continuation of the, caustic and sick-of-the-world persona Plaza has come to be associated with and 2) as a distinct version of that persona that is not supposed to be read as a caricature at all. Ingrid is not a twenty-something in a goth phase; she is unwell, scheming and utterly lonely

The bulk of the film’s story depicts Ingrid’s journey as she goes to ridiculous ends to befriend an Instagram celebrity. Instagtram and smart phones shape not only the film’s story, but its aesthetic: a montage of hip meals, neon lights and parties. Ingrid Goes West is certainly not the first movie to prominently depict smartphone usage: slow texting scenes were a mainstay in another 2017 film, Personal Shopper. Ingrid Goes West, however, is notable for its relationship to the present. Her (2013) used our phone culture as a springboard for vaguely related projections about the future. Personal Shopper, meanwhile, is a film of its time, not about its time. Its character’s excessive phone use is simply a realistic depiction of life in the 2010s.  Ingrid Goes West, however shoots its character’s phone use in such a way that audiences are made to feel uncomfortable. We are made to notice just how odd our society’s smartphone addiction looks when it’s blasted onto the bigscreen.

Ingrid eventually winds up in LA, and it is here that the story loses some of its charm. Ingrid essentially transitions from living with her miserable Instagram addiction to living in an Insta-reality. She befriends self-described photographer Taylor (Elizabeth Olson) and her manbunned artist husband Ezra (Wyatt Russel). She also comes to befriend Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr), her young, casually dressed, landlord, whose defining trait is being a Batman nerd. Infatuated with Taylor’s hipster-lavish and carefree lifestyle Ingrid becomes a fairly generic protagonist. Of course, savvy audiences will realize this is all an illusion, but it does have the effect of making Ingrid Goes West, not unlike Colossal or Brigsby Bear as a film whose shortcomings can be attributed to its having a great beginning and end but no middle.

Ingrid Goes West’s effectiveness is further undermined in that we only get to know one of its characters, Ingrid, on a three-dimensional level. To some extent, this makes sense. In a film about the dangerous-shallowness of the Insta-life, Taylor’s stinging superficiality makes perfect sense. Ezra’s underdevelopment more questionable, however. This character is introduced as a privileged-hipster-caricature. The film begins to show that Ezra is unhappy with his role in the insta-world, but this nuance in his personality is eventually abandoned, returning him to the status of place-holder-character.  Again, this writing choice is not all bad; It can be said to be part of the film’s spectrum of superficial portrayals. Taylor is made vane by the superficial, Ingrid is addicted to the superficial and Ezra has the consciousness to question the superficial, but not the consciousness to really understand what his questions are or to act on them .

The film’s 2-D character’s proble, however, is most unforgivable in the case of Dan. Dan’s function in the script is essentially that he exists outside of Taylor’s Insta-world: it is thus dramatic irony when Taylor’s brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) refers to Dan as Ingrid’s “Imaginary Boyfriend.” Because Dan represents an escape from smart-phone superficiality, he is written in a way that lacks nuance. He comes across as perfect: he’s a kind, brave, forgiving, struggling-artist-without-the-financial-troubles.

But as I said, Ingrid Goes West does end brilliantly. As Ingrid’s perfect world falls apart and the Ingrid of old re-emerges, she is no longer scary: audiences will sympathize with her. Furthermore, if they haven’t gotten the message, it will become clear to them that the way we are led to judge Ingrid early in the film is very hypocrtical. She looks absurd as she systematically searches instagram for validation, despite the fact that this behaviour arguably defines our generation. Perhaps, Ingrid Goes West is thus not so much a critique of social media, but how social media interacts with our larger socioeconomic society. The 1% of social media (those making money off their avocado toast photos) are just as “ridiculous” as the Ingrids of the world, yet our social-media-social-class positions can lead us to experience social media addiction very differently.

Viewers should be aware there is a plot-point in the film that makes use of suicide in a way that may make it unsafe viewing for those with active suicidal tendancies. Other viewers should rest assured, however, that in context, this scene is tasteful and very poignant.

Ingrid Goes West is overall an easy-to-follow fable, told from the perspective of a struggling, compelling protagonist. Check it out, and prepare to have your own social media habits uncomfortably put on display

Brigsby Bear (2017)

Written by: Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello. Directed by: Dave McCrary

Brigsby_BearComfortable, yet disconcerted. That’s how I felt while watching the opening of Brigsby Bear. We are introduced to James (Kyle Mooney), the film’s protagonist, as he watches  what appears to be a children’s TV show centred around, well, Brigbsy BearBrigsby is a Barney-the-dinosaur like entity, but the structure of his show is about as unconventional as it gets. He is a sci-fi hero who teaches bizarre moral lessons using mathematical equations. James eagerly absorbs the show from the comfort of his wooden, 1980s-style bedroom, made cozy with a thorough library of VCR tapes and Brigsby memorabilia. James is no child, so viewers can tell something is amiss. Nonetheless, for the most part, James’ world just seems wonderful; his parents even understand and support his Brigsby hobby.

Movies serve to entertain us, thus they require that something in the lives of the characters be not quite right. There needs to be a source of suspense: a dose of adventure. Yet movies are also a chance to escape, a means to break free from the stresses of the world. This is why the opening of Brigsby Bear is so effective: it is the perfect blend of alluring paradise and provocative mystery.

Much of the film does not, however, resemble its opening. James is thrust rudely into the real world, which it turns out is not a 1980s-nerd-utopia. The film subsequently follows his journey to reconcile his past and present. To a degree, therefore, it looses its charm. As James’ story become more conventional, Brigsby Bear is deprived of its escapist magic. Perhaps if it had not lost this feeling, I would not be writing now that Brigsby Bear is one of the most underrated cinematic efforts of 2017. The film indeed has flaws. Once its beginning gives way to the film’s main plot, what follows lacks narrative complexity , while not quite having the poetic simplicity of films like A Ghost Story.

But I repeat, Brigsby Bear is indeed an underrated film. While it loses its soul somewhere around the 1/3 mark, it quickly develops a new identity as a feel good story; and importantly, a feel good story that doesn’t rely on clichéd messaging. While Brigsby Bear’s ultimate feel is partly a result of its quirky foundations, it is equally a product of the provocative politics of its writers. Brigsby Bear’s story line is based around a crime. It is, not, however, a whodunit or a chronicling of the pursuit of justice (aka vengeance). Instead, it is a tale of healing.

Brigsby Bear is a film that rejects good-evil binaries. It’s primary antagonist notably disappears for a significant swathe of the film. While the fact that he committed the crime the film revolves around is never really questioned, when he actually appears on camera he is largely portrayed in a positive light. Director Dave McCrary likens him to “a fucked up Jim Henson teaching weird lessons about the world in a loving way.”  The complexity of this character is not lost on James, who talks to him as respectfully and fearlessly as he does to any other person.

James’ defining obsession is the Brigsby Bear tv show, a hobby that authority figures in his life, including a notably harsh psychologist (Claire Danes), try to take away from him. Were Brigsby Bear a feel good film in the truly clichéd sense of the word, its message could simply be reduced do celebrating “being oneself.” James’ defiant love for his favourite television show, however, is not just a statement about his (not so) rugged individualism. Instead it hits on something deeper: that is ok to love people and things that are intrinsically linked to your personal tragedies, and that “moving on” need not be an absolute proposition.

Brigsby Bear is in short a piece rife with imagination, made whole by its unique idealism. It also showcases Mark Hamill testing out the gruff-mentor persona he brought to Luke in The Last Jedi. Greg Kinnear also feature as a convention-breaking masculine authority figure.  So check out this film, but don’t think about it too much beforehand since, as Brigsby advises us, “curiosity is not a healthy emotion.”

Tiny Furniture (2010)

Written and directed by: Lena Dunham

Tiny_furniture_poster           Before there was Girls, Lena Dunham’s mildly-comedic, mildly-melancholic brand of stories-about-nothing was seen in her film Tiny Furniture. While not technically a prequel to Girls, it might as well be. The protagonist Aura (Dunham) is fresh out of college, and beginning to be interested in employment and independent living while nonetheless un-thrilled about the perils of adulthood. The film also stars Girls cast members Jemime Kirk and Alex Karpovsky. Kirk’s character, Charlotte, might as well be her Girls character, Jessa.

Unlike Girls, the film also features two of Dunham’s relatives. Her sister Grace plays Aura’s sister Nadine, and her mother Laurie Simmon plays Aura’s mother Siri. These characters draw heavily on the biographies of the actors who play them. While in Nadine’s case, the result is a likeable and entertaining sibling rival for Aura, in Siri’s case this approach is questionable.

Siri is a successful photographer, and that is seemingly the only career she’s ever had. Siri’s professional identity throws off what viewers might anticipate in a story about a recent college graduate struggling to face adulthood. One might expect Aura’s mother to give her a hard time about her head-in-the-clouds dreams of being an artist. As an artist herself, however, Siri can not judge her daughter and is therefore quirkily patient with Aura’s idiosyncracies. While, theoretically, Siri’s characterization makes her an interesting, novel figure, in practice her contradictory roles as mother and free-thinking artist negate each other. Siri is just impatient enough with Aura to allow some mother-daughter tension to simmer. This impatience is not enough, however, to truly drive fear into Aura, nor is it absent enough to make Siri’s tolerance for her daughter a comic trope.

Tiny Furniture is a subtle, realist, low-action film. In order to work, such films usually need to stumble upon some minimal form of a plot arc. In Paterson, this manifests in the final drama over Paterson’s notebook. In Lucky , the protagonist’s story is given meaning after he attends the birthday of his bodega owner’s son. Tiny Furniture’s plot arc seems to be structured around Aura’s relationship with Siri, however, and because of the weird middle ground between antagonist and supporter that Siri inhabits, the negotiation of her “dilemmas” with Aura doesn’t truly feel like a fitting focal point for the entire film to revolve around.

I do not mean to give the impression that Tiny Furniture is a bad film. I enjoyed parts of it, and would categorize it as on the cusp of being very good, but burdened by subtle mistakes. Aura is simultaneously vulnerable and privileged, a character dynamic that Dunham explores again and more effectively through Hannah Horvath in Girls. The problem with Dunham’s writing of this identity, however, is that she never thoroughly explores its highs and lows. For instance, even though Aura would rather go into the arts than pursue a practical career we are never really led to see the zaniness of her imagination, her level of drive to pursue the arts, or, as previously mentioned, a clash with her mother (or another “real world” figure) over her impracticality.

Tonally, however, Aura is effectively portrayed by Dunham. She is joined by other engaging characters including the regally rebellious Charlotte, snobby but likeable sister Nadine, literary hipster-bro Keith (David Call), and mysterious youtuber Jed (Karpovsky). These characters together form a dynamic universe, one which Dunham imagined for herself in a way that many viewers (especially those in the college and immediately-post-college phases of their lives) no doubt do as well. What would have made this film a classic, more than just a prequel to Girls? Oddly enough, more hipsterdom, more youthful entitlement, and perhaps (since it is described as shaping the lives of Siri and Aura alike) more tiny furniture.

Punch Drunk Love (2002)

Written and Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Punch-Drunk_Love_posterI recently sat down to rewatch Punch Drunk Love for the second time. I credit it as one of the works that helped nurse my newfound passion for film. It tells a story that is entertainingly quirky, but that also sufficiently ambiguous to challenge audiences to use their imaginations. It also takes a textbook example of a mainstream comedian, Adam Sandler, and brings out his acting talents, featuring him as Barry Egan, a man who is soft-spoken and anxious and also struggling with an anger management problem. This time around I enjoyed the film as much as I did when I first viewed it. Nonetheless, I was struck by how different it seemed.

When I first saw Punch Drunk Love, I saw myself as engaging in a challenging element of my cinematic growth. I was watching a story that made no sense: it had something to do with a harmonium, something to do with a blue suit, and something to do with a shady furniture store. Egan made no sense either: his job felt like a fiction, his intentions fluid and his desires opaque. I was fascinated by Egan and rooted for him, still, he was no rational actor.

Two-and-a-half-years, and numerous indie films with understated plots later, watching Punch Drunk Love proved a fundamentally different experience for me. Egan remained idiosyncratic, yet not unintelligibly so. He randomly came across a harmonium, so he tried to learn to play it: that makes sense, especially given his seeming lack of other passions in life. He bought a lot of pudding to get coupons: it seems like a risky interpretation of a sales deal, but everyone needs a hobby. In short, in my second viewing, I saw Barry not as some artistically, provocative fictional enigma, but a man looking for meaning while struggling with some combination of loneliness, anxiety, depression and anger management issues.

Of course, it is quite common to notice things on a second viewing one didn’t see the first time around. It also makes sense that plot details such as Barry’s behaviour can seem less weird when one knows to expect them. When it comes to viewing Punch Drunk Love, however, this experience was particularly striking. Barry has seven sisters who are controlling, cold, and judgemental towards him. The first time I watched Punch Drunk Love  in a way, I was those sisters. The second time around I was not: I may not have been Barry, but I understood his motives enough to be baffled and disappointed by his sisters’ behaviour towards him.

I do not know what your experience watching this film will be like. What I can promise is that it is a simple story that is too dark to be called “low-stakes,” but too absurd to be called “high-stakes.” If this kind of plotting, and a successful usage Adam Sandler’s talents in a (relatively speaking) serious role (Community fans will also appreciate getting to see Greendale alumni Luis Guzman feature as his friend, Lance) appeal to you, you too may come to count this oddball love story amongst your favorites.


The Future (2011)

Written and Directed by: Miranda July

TheFuture2011Poster“Quirky.” Is a vague adjective. Perhaps it refers to realism with non conventional characters. Perhaps it refers to fantasy or science fiction that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Regardless, it is certainly an upbeat word: it’s a spark of joviality. Miranda July’s The Future is an undoubtedly a Quirky work. Its co-protagonist Sophie (July) is never without an awkward look on her face, her partner Jason (Hamish Linklater) dons constant expressions of optimistic inadequacy. The story also features a (sort of) talking cat, and a somewhat animate yellow shirt. Nonetheless, this tale of quasi-millenials coming to face adulthood is anything but jovial.


The film’s plot can perhaps be called quirky as well. Jason and Sophie make plans to adopt an injured cat. Both aged 35 and working jobs they are not thrilled about, the thought of becoming “parents” (yes, as in parents for a cat, albeit a medically troubled one) leads them to believe their lives are endings. This leads the pair of them to adopt carpe diem attitudes. Unfortunately, they are both somewhat inept at the philosophy and it leads them to face greater levels of confusion and depression.


The Future is the rare film that one can see and not be sure whether one liked it or not. I say this because while it may be good, or bad, it is certainly not ‘meh.’ Sophie’s brand of awkwardness distinctly guide’s the film’s plot, as do the simultaneously-low-key-and-magical plot twists. The Future’s problem, or it’s quirk (depending on whether you view it positively or negatively), is that it is a tragedy that lacks a distinct moment of death or heartbreak. It follows a steady stream of bleakness, speckled with shimmers of hope. Furthermore, its almost-circular plot structure leaves audiences with cognitive dissonance: can there be tragedy, where it feels like to some degree, things were simply reset to the way they were to begin with?


I was drawn to The Future after enjoying Miranda July’s loosely-tonally-similar book, The First Bad Man. Fans of her written work will no doubt appreciate her filmmaking. Nonetheless, the tonal awkwardness (or distinctness) of The Future really illustrates the difference between the two mediums. Books provided writers with many chances to qualify their distinct emotional arcs, thus allowing audiences to become acclimate to them. Films do not offer a chance for such acclimation. Perhaps, however, that’s not a bad thing, and in leaving us disoriented, The Future has achieved its ambitions.