The surreal dramedy "The Future" gives us a pair of characters who face it nervously. Sophie (writer/director Miranda July) is a children's dance teacher too self-conscious to shed her inhibitions and cut loose. When she vows to create 30 YouTube dance clips in 30 days, she's petrified with performance anxiety. Her boyfriend, Jason (Hamish Linklater), a computer-support techie, seems more plugged in to the unseen clients who call the couple's apartment with glitches. The mid-30ish couple are together in name only, intertwining their legs when they share the sofa, but focused on their individual laptops.
To test their flagging romance, they decide to adopt an ailing shelter cat. Their visit to the shelter unexpectedly changes the characters' horizons. Instead of a renewed commitment, they find uncertainty after uncertainty.
If you are familiar with July's imaginative world from her acclaimed short stories or her captivating 2005 Cannes triumph "Me and You and Everyone We Know," it will not surprise you that the cat, Paw-Paw, narrates parts of the story. July provides the feline's scratchy-squeaky voice, which is fitting. Paw-Paw's sighing monologues of yearning and disappointment in the shelter mirror Sophie's mental state of chipper despair.
The actors are quite engaging, in their mopey way. July brings a tentative neediness to her character; you can almost see an "Adopt Me" sign around her neck. Linklater, so physically similar to his lanky, mop-haired co-star that they could be siblings, expresses his longing and doubt about their romance through tiny, meticulously observed physical giveaways. When Jason gives Sophie the side eye, you know they're in trouble without a word being exchanged.
There are laughs in this story of disconnected people. July doesn't deal in knee-slappers, but droll, off-kilter moments of absurd insight. Her vignettes are living "New Yorker" cartoons. Sophie imagines her life slipping away during a sign-up session at the children's dance studio, her clients evolving through an entire life cycle while she remains stuck at the reception desk. Like Paw-Paw, she's waiting for someone to rescue her.
Jason, distraught at the idea of a breakup, discovers he has the power to freeze time and desperately puts their separation on hold. Then he wanders through a nighttime Los Angeles made beautiful by suspended animation. With a thousand odd details, July builds a story with a surprising emotional wallop. By the finale, the fate of that shelter cat will have you by the throat.
What does it all mean? Your guess is as good as mine. July expects each of us to puzzle out the significance on our own. July's falling out of love story is a perplexing, haunting concoction of whimsy, sadness and beauty.