Sunday, December 4, 2011

Twee Serendipity: 9 notes on Miranda July's The Future

1) First, let's define twee--"to be obnoxiously sweet, or quaint. It comes across as being disingenuous, corny, or effeminate.

2) From Onstad's New York Times article "Miranda July Is Totally Not Kidding": "To her detractors (“haters” doesn’t seem like too strong a word) July has come to personify everything infuriating about the Etsy-shopping, Wes Anderson-quoting, McSweeney’s-reading, coastal-living category of upscale urban bohemia that flourished in the aughts. Her very existence is enough to inspire, for example, an I Hate Miranda July blog, which purports to detest her `insufferable precious nonsense.' Or there is the online commenter who roots for July to be exiled to Darfur. Or the blogger who yearns to beat her with a shoe."

3) The first time I watched The Future on Blu-ray, I fell asleep about 30 minutes into it, in part because the narrative appears to stop dead as Sophie (July) stares at a table leg, some hose, and other seemingly random objects in her ultra hipster Urban Outfitters vintage Los Angeles apartment, and in part because I was tired from a hard day's work. Still, I was intrigued enough by the randomness of the film's aesthetics to watch it again with my significant other, and this time I enjoyed it.

4) According to my significant other, other things that "twee" involves in terms of fashion:

a) The fascination with mixed prints.

b) Mixed time periods. Sophie tends to wear 1920's-inspired clothes (her little leather shoe flats struck me as important as anything else in the movie). Her boyfriend Jason's (Hamish Linklater's) long, unkempt hair and jeans evoke the 1960's.

c) Mixed value. The Twee fashion aesthetic involves incongruously blending $500 Prada shoes with a t-shirt from Target. You form an identity by trying to pick things that please you, and they can be of any value. You fashion a DIY style out of the grab bag vintage detritus of different genres, values, time periods, and prints without being co-opted by corporate branding.

5) So how does July's serendipitous creativity work? The Future is in part about its creative technique. As Richard Brody notes about the film: "an exemplary work of modern cinema is defined by its reflection of the way in which it was made." After Sophie and Jason commit to taking care of a cat Paw-Paw that has been kept at a clinic due to its illness (renal failure), they learn that they have about a month before they can take the cat home. After that, the cat could die within six months, or within a few years if it bonds with them. This commitment suddenly (and humorously) forces the couple to rethink their whole lives. Now in their thirties, they discuss how they will soon turn forty, and then they might as well be fifty, and after that there's nothing but "loose change," as Jason puts it. So, they decide to quit their LA McJobs and remain open to everything as they attempt to reinvent themselves. Jason arbitrarily joins an environmentalist organization "Tree to Tree" where he tries to sell trees door to door. Sophie decides to create a different dance each day for thirty days, film herself performing each dance with her webcam, then show the dances on the Internet.

6) The key to all of this flaky behavior is their willingness to remain open to everything. Because of that choice, Sophie happens upon the phone number behind a drawing that Jason bought that leads her into (spoiler alert) an affair with an older man Marshall (David Warshofsky), in part due to her frustration with her attempts at choreography, and in part because she doesn't have to be creative around Marshall (thus does Sophie's failure help July fashion a successful movie). Meanwhile, Jason's new job as an environmental solicitor obliges him to get out of the house, think about the interior/exterior world, and meet suburbanites. Through this process, he discovers Joe Putterlik, an older man who sells him a used hair dryer. In real life, Miranda July found Joe through a PennySaver ad when she got frustrated with writing The Future. Thus, July, like her characters, uses random events and encounters to help her create. The film keeps obliging its viewer to say "Where in the hell is this film going now?" Twee or not, the random Ghost Worldesque quirkiness is oddly compelling.

7) Meanwhile, what about the talking cat, Paw-Paw, and the talking moon (which uses the voice of Joe Putterlik)? By including Paw-Paw, July seems to cater to the infinite internet meme interest in cats. As J. D. Salinger wrote, "we are being sentimental when we give to a thing more tenderness than God gives to it. I said that God undoubtedly loves kittens, but not, in all probability, with Technicolor bootees on their paws. He leaves that creative touch to script writers."

8) Still, Paw Paw talks about being stranded in the great "Outside" before finding some domestic comfort with her possible new owners. Paw-Paw's existential quandary in the animal clinic sets up the film's concern with our own screwed up relations with the outside world. There's something pantheistic about July's vision where animals and inanimate matter can communicate with her characters. Her world is also reminiscent of Peewee's Playhouse where most everything in Peewee's living room has been anthropomorphized.

9) Later in The Future, Marshall's little girl Gabriella (Isabella Acres) experiments with burying most of herself in a hole in her backyard. She attempts to sleep outside that way, as if she intuitively shares in the cat's fears of exposure. Meanwhile, Jason manages to "freeze" time when Sophie wants to tell him of her affair, so he (again rather randomly) talks with the full moon about what to do. In his indecision, he allows a month to slip by, thereby he and Sophie miss their appointment to pick up the cat. In the end, July's anthropomorphized cat and moon communicate our lack of connection with the environment. Even as they talk sweetly, the cat and the moon acknowledge an indifferent cold exterior world that has little to do with the Urban Outfitter hipsters and their need for attention and some sort of commitment. As she begins to understand this, Sophie looks for an escape from her faddish interests, her time, her creative limitations, her fashion sense, and her self-absorption.

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