During my recent devastating illness I watched a couple of movies which I've seen described, or dismissed, as pretentious--"Tiny Furniture" and "The Future." I say thumb up on the first, thumb down on the latter. Let's start with "The Future," from writer/director/star Miranda July, who has a book of short stories that I thought was very good. To be honest, I didn't pay very close attention to the movie. That may seem like a flimsy basis on which to review it but having recently been apprised of my own mortality I didn't feel that I could squander my limited time on earth listening to every little line of dialogue, especially after the first few minutes made it clear that there was going to be a voice-over from a cat. July's Sophie is beautiful, as is her boyfriend Jason, played by Hamish Linklater. Their physical similarities--healthy bodies, enormous eyes, mops of dark curls--are so pronounced that it begs the question of why they seem to take so little pleasure in each other's company. In an early scene, sitting on the couch, he seems to be a bad boyfriend. She asks if he can bring her some water, and he says he wasn't getting up, only adjusting his position: a preference for self-interest over a minor generosity. But it turns out that he's not being cruel. He just has nothing to give. At 35, he's completely listless. And she too is exhausted. Teaching a dance class for children, she can't even keep hopping the whole time. If the toddlers want to hop, her slumped posture suggests, that's their business. 

It may be a failure of empathy on my part, and maybe I'm missing the point, but I couldn't care about or like either of these characters. Seriously, just take a long weekend in Veracruz or something. There's a subplot about Sophie's relationship with the receptionist at the dance studio, a hyper-toned LA nymphet who posts videos of herself doing sexy dances on YouTube. The suggestion is that Sophie--ethereal, cerebral--is galled by the blunt sexuality and blithe manners of the receptionist. Sophie thinks the receptionist is stupid. The proof is that she mispronounces "Cirque du Soleil." This strikes me as petty and misplaced snobbery. It actually happens fairly often in movies, that a female character is established as smart by her stoical reaction to a stupid female character--like in "Lost in Translation," where Scarlett Johanssen makes fun of the blonde actress because she doesn't know that Evelyn Waugh is a man. Can I just say I find this extremely off-putting, and I do know who Evelyn Waugh was, and how to pronounce Cirque du Soleil.

There's actually a good counterpoint in "Tiny Furniture," a first feature from writer/director Lena Dunham which concerns the post-college malaise of a young woman, Aura, who's just graduated from college in Ohio and moved back to her mom's loft in Tribeca. Dunham's mom plays her mom, and her sister plays her sister, and Dunham plays a character who probably has some things in common with herself. "Tiny Furniture" also includes a character, Charlotte, who's initially framed as a ditsy counterpoint to the more serious female lead (she's the British girl in the trailer). But over the course of the film there's a nice twist on the usual trope of plain smart girl vs hot dumb girl. It's not that Charlotte gets deeper, but our perception of her does. As flaky as she initially appears, she's a fairly consistent friend to Aura, and more grounded than her initial appearance at that party suggests. Expectations are similarly slightly altered with all four of the female characters (maybe even five, which is five more substantive women than most movies have). The men are pretty useless, but that's how they are sometimes. I had heard mixed reviews of "Tiny Furniture" going in, with much of the controversy predicated on the question of how reflective the movie is supposed to be: like, does Lena Dunham not realize that Aura is a little bit of a spoiled brat? To me, it's clear that she does. It struck me as quite a self-aware movie, and not one that condescends to the audience or the creators. ("Tiny Furniture" is now playing on Netflix Instant. "The Future" is available from your local Redbox for $1, but only if you're trying to blow $1 and wouldn't rather buy a pie.

01/08/2012 05:45

I didn't see The Future on the basis of the trailer. I might be wrong, but I think this confirmed my suspicions:

01/08/2012 08:09

hehe. The cat sounds like Marcel the Shell.


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