The real make-or-break point for writer/director Miranda July’s The Future (Roadside Attractions DVD) comes early, when you must buy (or not) the idea that Sophie (July) and her boyfriend Jason (Hamish Linklater) would, in the process of adopting a sick cat, decide to change their lives completely overnight. But to get to that, you have to get past the cat himself. July herself performs Paw Paw as a pair of disembodied furry front limbs seen in a newspaper-lined shelter cage; her rendition of his tiny, scratchy voice speaks before the film begins in earnest. It is the kind of thing that sets eyes rolling among many viewers with its quirkiness, its potential for preciousness. But like so many things in July’s work, Paw Paw as a device, as a character, is uncanny, surprising, deft, and smart on several levels. Just like The Future as a whole.
With their matching frowsy mops of hair and laptops and dry senses of humor, Sophie and Jason seem meant for each other. But they aren’t slacker kids anymore; as they hit their mid-30s, teaching dance to little kids instead of dancing (Sophie) and doing tech support from home (Jason) perhaps feel a little less temporary. They decide to pass their 30-day wait to bring Paw Paw home by making their lives feel like they matter a little more. No jobs, no Internet—she’ll choreograph, and he’ll do something that makes a difference. Cut off from their usual distractions, they—especially Sophie—find new ones, like a random middle-aged suburban stranger named Marshall (David Warshofsky).
Paw Paw isn’t the only stretch here—Jason jokes about his ability to stop time, and then he does it. And the moon talks to him in the voice of an old man (Joe Putterlik) who sold him a hairdryer through an ad in the PennySaver. But The Future is an intimate drama as well as a quirkfest. July captures the frustration of finding yourself in an ordinary life, and for all the film’s magic realism, the relationships feel real, from Marshall and Sophie’s surprisingly visceral mutual seduction to Jason’s hurt in the aftermath. And then there are the moments that feel both real and unreal, as when Sophie folds herself up inside an oversized yellow T-shirt and does what can only be described as a dance/catharsis. Indeed, The Future feels intuitive as much as thought out, yet its rendering of Sophie and Jason’s emotional states—and its oblique look at the state of their relationship—is hard-earned and perfectly captured.
Another indie-ish film new to home video gambles big and wins in an entirely different way. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (Magnolia Blu-ray and DVD) begins as so many horror flicks do: A carload of carefree college kids heading deep into the woods for a camping trip have an ominous encounter with some scary-looking redneck dudes. The twist here is that the latter are, in fact, sweet good ol’ boys Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), who are just excited to get to their new vacation home—a remote, dilapidated cabin full of taxidermied animals and old news clippings about horrible murders—for a weekend of fishing and beer. And the former are sort of horrible people whose stupidity and assumptions about Tucker and Dale soon get the best of them—with fatal results.
It’s the kind of premise that might make a decent comedy-show sketch; it’s easy to imagine tedious disaster if it were drawn out to feature length. But Tucker and Dale comes up smiling, and so do you. The mechanics by which the college kids off themselves one by one are fiendishly, Final Destination-style perfect, as are the plot mechanics that allow both Tucker and Dale and the kids to continue to assume the worst of each other as the absurdities of the situation—and the bodies—pile up. Director and co-writer (with Morgan Jurgenson) Eli Craig deploys slasher-flick/scary hillbilly tropes with a deft touch and evident glee, right down to a dead-on Texas Chainsaw Massacre joke/homage. It’s the kind of movie that boasts both copious gore and quality laughs, making Tucker and Dale the rare attempt at a “horror comedy” that’s actually funny.
But it works mostly thanks to the game cast that takes on Craig and Jurgenson’s delightful script. Katrina Bowden charms as Craig’s stand-in for the typical slasher-movie final girl/romcom love interest, and Jesse Moss is pitch-perfect as a frat dick turned unhinged survivor. Most of all, Tudyk and Labine make convincing runnin’ buds and gimme-capped good dudes, with Tudyk adroitly playing straight man and Labine bagging laughs with sweet, stammering Dale. It’s not that the lines themselves are so funny, really—it’s all in Labine’s delivery. And forget horror comedies. It’s pretty rare that a buddy movie features a central pair who actually seem like buddies. Evil does not triumph here.