The New York Times - Miranda July Is Totally Not Kidding
The urban bohemian irks precisely because his or her quirky individuality is just part of a different kind of uniformity, where the uniform happens to be a bushy beard or Zooey Deschanel bangs rather than country-club khakis. Twee fascinations with childhood innocence can mask an unwillingness to tackle life’s darker quandaries. Who wouldn’t be annoyed by a guy who, say, finds a cracked milk bottle, makes a film about it, then silk screens it on a T-shirt and names his band Milk Bottle? The stakes are low. The results are soon forgotten.
But is Miranda July the archenemy of seriousness? She has an affinity for surface detail, like the childlike scrawl on her sculptures that appeared in the Venice Biennale or the matching haircuts of her two main characters in “The Future.” But unlike certain directors who fixate on marginalia, creating art in which the engraving on a character’s belt buckle takes precedence over the story, July’s seemingly superficial gestures service something greater: a pulsing emotional center. It’s odd that she has come to represent, for some, a kind of soulless hipster cool, because in July’s work, nobody is cool. There’s no irony to it, no insider wink. Her characters are ordinary people whose lives don’t normally invite investigation. So her project is the opposite of hipster exclusion: her work is desperate to bring people together, forcing them into a kind of fellow feeling. She’s unrelentingly sincere, and maybe that sincerity makes her difficult to bear. It also might make her culturally essential
July set out to write a tighter, more controlled story than her first film, with fewer characters. She was also in her 30s, and she was feeling older and less rainbow colored.
“It’s kind of about letting go of that feeling of my 20s, that feeling that I will do absolutely everything, I will have sex with everyone, I will go to every country,” she says. “In your 30s, it’s obvious that a finite amount of things will happen.” In “The Future,” the characters sum it up. Sophie: “We’ll be 40 in five years.” Jason: “Forty is basically 50. And then after 50, the rest is just loose change.”
The day after “The Future” was completed last fall, Putterlik died at age 81. In the spring, his wife died, too. July found out that most of their things were being tossed in a Dumpster, and so, in a panic, she drove over to their house and rescued as many objects as she could.
The tableau — July rifling through a box of poignant mementos, including a plastic-cow diorama that she placed gently on its side — could well have been a scene in one of her films. It could even, at first glance, have seemed like the kind of moment her critics accuse her of: a boxful of curiosities passed off as profundity.
But when she showed me the construction-paper card, holding it very carefully, she was clearly touched by this man’s love for his wife. With her film, she’s trying to understand and excavate something of that love. There was no fetishizing of the oddball, no crippling nostalgia, no lack of gravitas, either in that desire or in its result.
Maybe not everyone will believe this about her. I asked her what, if anything, she would like to say to those people. “I would just say I’m totally not kidding,” she said. “Life is too short. This is all too hard to do to actually be kidding about the whole thing.”