Dir. Miranda July
Miranda July's film opens with a disembodied voice. High-pitched and trembly, it's difficult to place. A young child? An old woman? Not quite. It turns out to be a cat, talking about how excited she is for the day her future owners will be picking her up from the shelter and going home with them. And this is hardly the most peculiar conceit in July's quasi-surreal comedy, either. We also have a talking moon, a disembodied shirt that crawls down a suburban street in L.A., and two pasty white people in their mid-30s who intentionally give up the Internet for a month.
But don't get the impression the film is all hokum and oddities, like a Harmony Korine picture with better pacing. At its root, July's film is about our time together on this planet and what choices we make (or don't make) that affect us indefinitely, or not at all. In this pursuit, July, who plays a winsome woman named Sophie, is perfectly suited with her co-star, Hamish Linklater, who plays her partner, Jason. As a well lived-in couple, not only do they share a similarly understated sense of humor and openness to absurdity, they have spent so much time together, sitting on the couch and reading, they actually look alike. When they decide to take the plunge and adopt our feline narrator in a month's time hence, a step they both see as an indication of the forced progress of maturity and eventual old age, they take the opportunity to live out their lives to the fullest before committing to the stability of the next fifty years together. Jason joins up with an environmental group, going door-to-door, fruitlessly trying to sell trees, while Sophie embarks on a peculiar affair with the man whose pencil drawing of his daughter Jason bought on a whim at the animal shelter.
At various junctures, we return to the cat's progress from inside her cage, waiting patiently to join with her new family. July pours on the anthropomorphism thickly, creating a talisman of pathos in place of her two leads, who, in the beginning, are both too passively disjointed to create much of an emotional pull. It is when things start truly going south for the couple, that you begin to feel badly for them: For all their slight indifference, it's clear they belong together, but Sophie's spooky, nearly guiltless emotional transience proves to be a difficult obstacle even for the intractable Jason to hurdle.
It's an odd film to be sure, asking its viewers to give it a wide berth, but despite its magic realism elements, somehow it never veers into fanciful preciousness. Some of that is due to the well-grounded character work by Linklater, who plays a sweetly innocent man who truly believes he's found his soul mate right up until the point she shatters him. It is he who handles the film's most emotional moment, literally stopping time in its tracks rather than have to hear his girlfriend confess her infidelity to him. There, sitting on the floor of their apartment, Sophie frozen in time, he pleads with the moon to keep this bad thing from happening, to keep everything just as it was, when he thought for certain he was almost totally bored and happy.