Future 38 is a fantastical fever dream of a film, a psychotropic time travel tale told in almost violently colorful tones. Paradoxically both gritty and slick, it’s a strange and delightful sojourn involving Nazis, Formica, strange sunglasses and stranger paradoxes.
From its opening sequence involving Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson declaring in no uncertain terms the historical importance of the film, you know you’re in for something a bit oblique. The notion is that this is a lost work found in some attic, a forgotten futurist film from the '30s that in Wizard of Oz-like fashion toys with two worlds. Rather than leaving Kansas our chisel-faced protagonist Essex (Nick Westrate) leaves his present while wearing a form fitting “chronotard”, travelling decades to a future where hip dialogue and jazzy patter coexist with iPhones and the children of Hitler (he’s named Lamont, naturally). Meeting the buxom blonde Banky (Betty Gilpin) the two convene to help rest the temporal disturbance before it’s too late.
With its mishmash of screwball comedies and H.G. Wells-ian forward thinking, the film feels like a delightful evening spent intoxicated on one’s couch, half apprehending a cornucopia of cinema playing TCM and blending the fruits of their narratives like a fine cocktail.
Writer/Director Jamie Greenberg has a knack for style and dialogue, with the repartee between the leads particularly charming. While some of the jokes are groan-worthy, and some of the lines far too “writerly”, there’s enough spirit at play that it feels churlish to complain.
Gilpin in particular is a revelation, perfectly embodying right down to her physical movement the style that’s being mimicked/celebrated. Her tone is as ornery as it is engaging, reminding just how damn good the likes of Hepburn or Lana Turner were when given scenes to chew. While her broad take as the token broad is spot on, some of the other pieces are more groan-worthy than glorious. When the gangsters are Jews named Maztoh and Bitter Herb, you know the writer isn’t passing over any chance to pun. Still, almost preposterously it all kind of works, thanks in part to the conservative running time that keeps things brisk and, like the lead, knows when it’s time to go.
The sprinkling of fine character actors get to make hay within a kaleidoscope of technicolor charm. Chartreuse dresses, crimson walls and glowing ornamentation makes for something that should be a vomit of chromatics but instead seems exactly the kind of future thinking that would be made (one still awaits, after all, the austerity of Kubrick’s sterile aesthetic decades after his operatic space film was set).
It’s easy to tease the past for not getting the present right, but given the times we’re living in, it’s hard to have forseen the current state even a half a year ago. Rather than laughing at notions of our limitations when it comes to existing within the time/space continuum and experiencing it in linear fashion, Future 38 allows for a sympathetic look, reminding that there’s both a surreal nature to where we are, and a deeper connection to where we were than we may often acknowledge.
Like the McGuffin at the heart of the tale, Future 38 is a shiny bauble that has moments that shine. More than a one trick pony, the rumpus exhibited by this Jazz-age jaunt makes for a quite silly, but equally quite memorable time in a theatre.