Another case of personalities and situations that should be exasperating but somehow aren't. And in this case, I'm even more stumped as to why this particular melancholy quirkfest works.
The story concerns two pseudo-hippie overgrown children who decide that adopting a cat is the end of life as they know it and they have to make the intervening days count. They quit their respective jobs but then are completely stumped as to how to fill the time as it drags on. The film then shapeshifts and takes radical, often abstract turns, but basically that is the plot. And it opens with a talking cat.
So how did it happen that I not only swallowed this ode to navelgazing but was downright enthralled? Was it Miranda July's way with dialogue? Was it her off-kilter on-screen charm? Was it the rich, gorgeous score by Jon Brion? Was it the side-splitting yet eerily sharp exchanges like "You have two options - you can tell him the truth or lie."/"Oh, the two of us are incredibly close. It's impossible for me to do either of those things."?
For some reason when July writes into her script a conversation with the moon (or a precocious child that sleeps inside a lawn or a stalking T-shirt that incites a Lynchian dance routine) it doesn't feel like hollow quirk. Instead it feels like a natural extension of an idiosyncratic but thoroughly relatable woman's search for meaning in places where people don't normally care to look.
Maybe that's it. Maybe the difference between Miranda July's output and that of the Sundance factory stems from the fact that when she puts in a talking cat, it's not a nod to any attention-seeking indie formula but rather a coherent, authentic part of the world as she spontaneously experiences it. When she unhinges the naturally, hilariously finicky strands of her imagination, when she unrolls her thoughts and follows them systematically from beginning to [obscure yet logical] end, she comes up with ideas, images and conceits that are precious in every sense of the word.
Also, it helps enormously that July is very aware of precisely how ridiculous her alter ego is. She doesn't encourage you to love these characters for their flaws, but in spite of them. And most importantly, she doesn't let her story rest on a string of tiny resonant observations, but on an elegant, idiosyncratic yet hefty statement on the inexorable passage of time.
Labels: ****, 2011, Melbourne International Film Festival