How much kookiness can a film endure?
That question haunts the second feature from Miranda July, multi-media performance artist and author whose feted debut, Me And You And Everyone We Know (2005), struck just the right balance of cutesiness and emotion.
Again anatomising relationships, her follow-up sometimes bewitches, but it also bewilders in its stifling self-absorption and use of a sickly sweet feline narrator whose scratchy voice (July does the talking) makes 91 minutes of fingernails scratching blackboards sound appealing.
July’s voice grates a bit less as Sophie, half of a disconnected mid-’30s LA couple who decide to face adult responsibility by adopting poorly puss Paw-Paw.
This momentous decision made, Sophie and identikit hubby Jason (Hamish Linklater) devote one pre-cat month to the projects they never started in 15 previous years of stunted growth: she films herself dancing, he sells trees.
A soggier pair of wet dishcloths you’d struggle to find, but real anxieties bubble resonantly to the surface. There’s weight to their worries about work, love and aging, with children – or their absence – being the big unspoken in their slowly stagnating relationship.
Catch yourself ‘relating’, though, and you’ll slap yourself as July slips in extreme close-ups of Paw-Paw’s cutie-wutie wittle paws, or Sophie spouting glumly self-aware soundbites like some terminally timid teenager.
Which is a shame because, aided by Jon Brion’s off-beat score, July brings smartly surreal twists to the end stretch. A wandering T-shirt, a talking moon and tangled timelines suspend reality, exposing emotional undercurrents in magic-realist flourishes.
More surprises pepper the path to an unexpectedly moving climax, where July’s real – and implicitly self-critical – subject emerges as the fear of emptiness lurking behind indie-cute affectations.
If she’d cut the kitty quirks and targeted that emotional quick a bit sooner, The Future might not have seemed so distant.