Miranda July Is The Best At Everything


I’m excited for Harry PotterCaptain America, and Cowboys and Aliens but my most anticipated summer movie is The Future, the new film from writer/director/star Miranda July. For a period of approximately six months, I have voraciously devoured any interviews, YouTube videos, or magazine articles concerning her. I read her book of short stories No One Belongs Here More Than You three times, watched her movie Me and You And Everyone We Know over and over, listened to her two avant-garde radio show style CDs, and then camped out at a SXSW screening for her new movie in the misguided hope that there might be extra seats. It’s a good thing she’s married to fellow artist/ filmmaker Mike Mills (who also has a movie out this summer called Beginners) or I feel confident I could slide down the slippery slope from crush to obsession to waiting for the police on a street corner with a copy of Catcher in the Rye. Let me try to give a broad overview of her body of work.

Part of what appeals to me about July is what I perceive as an emphasis on human connection and authenticity—and mind you, this comes from a lady who changed her last name from Grossinger to July (because she says that’s the month when she’s the most productive although I imagine it’s also because of July’s denotation of bright, airy, optimism as opposed to Grossinger which, you know, has the word “gross” in it). I’ve read commentators who describe her persona as being nauseatingly artificial, a kind of marketable twee artist character invented to presumably sell tickets to her performances. I think maybe this antipathy comes from a cynicism about anyone in the art world who appears genuine, who isn’t making a hip ironic statement, but I don’t understand it. Following the success of her first film Me and You and Everyone We Know, rather than bowing to financial pressure to capitalize on the buzz and immediately make another film, she worked on a book of short stories and a performance piece called Things We Do Not Understand and Definitely Aren’t Going to Talk About. Eventually, the performance piece blossomed into the screenplay for The Future.

Her short stories frequently revolve around lonely people who, through fantasy and pretend, manage to transcend their miserable situations if only momentarily. “Majesty” depicts an older woman who teaches earthquake preparedness and has graphic sexual fantasies about Prince William that lead her to formulate a plan on how to meet him in England. In “Swimming Lessons”, the narrator describes a year she spent in a city where she’s mistakenly known as Maria and reinvents herself as a swim coach for three octogenarians. Since there are no swimming pools or any other bodies of water in the town’s vicinity, she places bowls of tap water under their faces and has them paddle around on the floor instead. In “Something That Needs Nothing”, the teenage narrator is rejected by her best friend and love of her life, resulting in an emotionally explosive meltdown. She then reinvents herself as a peep show performer, a vocation that’s referenced in one of July’s CDs as well. Each of the characters’ vulnerabilities is rendered in heart wrenching, unflinching detail. July has a talent for exposing the uncomfortable truth, these universal unspoken insecurities, and she does so with a seemingly oxymoronic sense of whimsy.

She often seems less focused on expressing herself as an artist and more often about connecting people to one another or getting other people to express themselves. Big Miss Moviola (AKA Joanie4Jackie) was a chain letter style film project that brought together amateur female filmmakers and gave them a venue through screenings and video subscriptions.Learning to Love You More was a website she created with fellow artists Harrell Fletcher and Yuri Ono that posted creative assignments for ordinary people to undertake. The results—photos, music, video, drawings, and more—were then posted. This led to a thriving artistic community, an exhibition, and then a book containing the best of the submissions.

Another project called Eleven Heavy Things consists of eleven sculptural objects that require interaction — pedestals to stand on (that say things like “Guilty”), tablets with holes for body parts (that say things like “this isn’t the first hole my finger’s been in and it won’t be the last”), and free-standing abstract headdresses. According to July’s website, “Though the work begins as sculpture, it becomes a performance that is only complete when these tourist photos are uploaded onto personal blogs and sent in emails — at which point the audience changes, and the subject clearly becomes the participants, revealing themselves through the work.”

Another piece she created is called The Hallway, shown here:

For Vice Magazine, she and Roe Ethridge created a series of photos focusing on the extras from various famous movie stills. July dressed up in the extra’s costume, reenacted his/her pose, and mimicked his/her facial expression.

She often employs surrealism to come at the truth from an odd angle. Performances veer off into strange borderline nonsensical places with robots, weird scientific experiments, and interactions with creepy peep show customers. Although Me and You and Everyone We Know was fairly grounded, The Future—which I haven’t seen yet, dammit—is narrated by a cat named Paw Paw. The moon speaks with the voice of an old man. A yellow shirt creeps along the floor like an injured inchworm. The plot revolves around a hipsterish couple named Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) who decide to adopt a terminally ill cat in 30 days. The cat, like a newborn baby, will require round-the-clock care, and with such a monumental responsibility approaching, they decide to quit their jobs and follow their dreams. But of course, things get complicated.

Her approach to publicity is almost as interesting as the thing she’s publicizing. The website for her book of short stories was a series of photographs of text she wrote on her kitchen counter in dry erase marker. With The Future’s release approaching, the movie’s website has a blog where she posts creative assignments, answers questions, and posts videos of her goofing around in her hotel room. The website also emails me fortunes. Here’s one: “A friend needs you. But which one? Hint: you saw her last at a party. She was wearing something new and you laughed about tv.” Here’s another one: “Your health concern worries me. It’s not fatal, but your inability to care for yourself does not bode well. See to it.” Sort of an ominous way to start my day.

I think that about covers it. The Future comes out July 29, and I’m just counting down the days until then. In conclusion: ))<>((.

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image – Miranda July