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Miranda July’s long-awaited second feature brandishes poetic insights and imaginative flights akin to those that graced her 2005 debut Me and You and Everyone We Know, but without nearly so much of the bracing outrageousness and sense of surprise. This quiet, quirky look at a couple haplessly trying to envision and manipulate their future will no doubt gather some ardent fans around it, but their numbers will be small. After its Sundance debut, the German-American coproduction will play in competition at the Berlin Film Festival next month.
Active in assorted media, July has a rarified sensibility that’s hard to pin down, as it’s both rigorous and massively whimsical. Here, unfortunately, the latter dominates in a portrait of two 35-year-olds whose intensely limited and selective way of examining their position in life and the world suggests delusional naivete and a decidedly self-deceptive way of preparing for the eventuality indicated by the title.
As before, the charm of the filmmaker’s idiosyncratic conceits is disarming at first. Philosophically matter-of-fact narration is provided, in a scratchy high voice, by an ailing cat that Jason (Hamish Linklater) and Sophie (July) have committed to taking home from a shelter upon its projected recovery in a month. The cat, as it turns out, has a more coherent view of life, the passage of time and the hereafter than do the humans, who live in a nondescript section of Los Angeles and in a manner no more productive or pulled together than is common among unmotivated undergrads.
Both slim, gangly and unruly-haired, Jason and Sophie speak about adopting the cat (“I think we’re ready”) as others would discuss having a baby, and oddly link their prospects for moving on in life to this momentous step. As part of the process, they agree to junk their addictions to technology in preparation for it and devote their time to other tentatively quixotic pursuits, Sophie to making decidedly amateurish dance videos (so much for their technology ban) and Jason to doing door-to-door solicitation for anti-global warming tree buying.
If this isn’t enough to send some rugged viewers looking for the exit, what follows becomes needlessly perplexing, as what little storytelling there is both halts and fractures, while the film’s philosophical concerns are obliquely expressed to exceedingly modest effect. There will be those to whom July’s elusive manner and message speak directly, but to most they will come off as needlessly affected and irrelevant to anything connected to real life. Anyone who was put off by the smug self-absorption of the couple in Sam Mendes’ Away We Go might be similarly afflicted by the duo here.
The two leads’ performances stress a perplexity with life above all else and there is almost no sense of a physical relationship between the two despite the amount of time they spend in bed or in close proximity within their inelegant apartment. As in her first film, the director continues to display a knack for clean, confident visuals and a fine fluency in editing and the use of music.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Premieres
Production: Razor Films, GNK
Cast: Hamish Linklater, Miranda July, David Warshofsky, Isabella Acres, Joe Putterlik
Director-screenwriter: Miranda July
Producers: Gina Kwon, Roman Paul, Gerhard Meixner
Executive producer: Sue Bruce-Smith
Director of Photography: Nikolai von Graevenitz
Production designer: Elliott Hostetter
Costume designer: Christie Wittenborn
Editor: Andrew Bird
Music: Jon Brion
Sales: The Match Factory
Rating: No rating, 91 minutes
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