At last – an American indie film worthy of the tag. The independent film industry in the US has become so debased in recent years by studios jumping on the bandwagon and by a chronic lack of imagination (and a surfeit of self-conscious zaniness) on the part of writers, directors and producers that it has become all but meaningless.
Miranda July bucks the trend with a feature-film debut that channels her background in confessional video and performance art, short stories and radio plays into a film that is a tender, funny, intelligent, immediate and passionate meditation on the search for love and belonging in the modern world.
The place is LA (although no one says so specifically), the time is now and July moves with a refreshing lack of contrivance through the lives of several characters – all searching for love, all wanting to belong. None is too exaggerated or begs for pity; each could be any of us. Our principal interest, Christine (played by July herself) is a struggling artist and one-woman taxi service for the elderly. Meanwhile, Richard (John Hawkes) is a nervy but soulful salesman at a local shoe outlet who is breaking up with the mother of his two boys, seven-year-old Robby (Brandon Ratcliff) and 14-year-old Peter (Miles Thompson). Elsewhere, two savvy 17-year-old girls explore their sexuality by embroiling themselves in a sleazy stand-off with Richard’s work colleague, Andrew (Brad William Henke), and practising blow-job techniques on the young and willing Peter.
The script is tinged with ironic distance. There are glorious moments of near-absurd reflection. ‘Soup won’t be computerised. It’s a liquid,’ runs one character’s riposte to another’s prediction of an entirely digital future. ‘Email wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for AIDS,’ blurts out Nancy (Tracy Wright), a pretentious gallery curator with a shaky sense of cultural lineage. That July is the film’s pivot is the key to its success – her presence reminds us of its authorship and justifies its heightened sense of reality.
This is a series of statements and meditations, not social realism. July acts as a soothing tour guide through several comic interludes and melancholic diversions (such as a quasi-celestial episode that involves the death of a goldfish left on a car roof). She is the film’s heart and soul – a conduit for us all to think about ourselves, our simplest assumptions and the elusive search for love and community. She can also make us laugh – a lot.