Fantasia 2018 Review: MICROHABITAT Boils Life Down To Cigarettes And Whiskey

Depressing and cute in equal measures.

It may be a myth, but the general idea of a normal life plan is to go to college, have some fun, get a job, buy a house, make a family and eventually retire. But then there are those who forgo all that and live life by their own rules or standards. They choose not to walk the typical path and take freedom in place of normalcy and the safety that comes with it.

Microhabitat’s Miso is one of those people. Once the member of a wild band, Miso now cleans homes and lives in a tiny apartment with no heating. But that’s okay. As long as she has her cigarettes, whiskey and boyfriend, she doesn’t care.

Except the world will not allow her such simple pleasures. When the cost of rent and cigarettes go up, she decides she’d rather give up the apartment than her smokes and throws herself into homelessness and the kindness of her old bandmates.

I’m not sure whether Microhabitat thinks this is an inspiring or stupid decision, which may be part of the point. Miso is presented as an almost saintly spirit, visiting her fastidious cleaning and cooking skills - as well as her complete lack of judgment - upon a variety of characters as the film progresses. One by one, she visits old bandmates who have moved on to the “straight” life. And one by one, they are all miserable. The film is not cheesy enough to have her solve their issues with her presence, but she does lighten their places until it’s time for her to leave for whatever reason (most of them negative).

The ultimate point is that - straight or wild - life is shit and everything sucks. This is quite a stance for what is in all other regards presented as a quirky, almost adorable, comedy. Miso’s richest friend has a horrible husband. Her youngest friend bought his new wife an apartment he can barely afford only to have her walk out on him. But life conspires against even Miso’s modest needs. It’s not like she games the system by denying it; she’s punished just like everyone else.

There is a mainstream sheen that makes a lot of this hard to believe. You hear what the film is saying, but the presentation is at arm’s length from its own ideals. Miso wants her whiskey but she is not a drunk. Were this a Western production, she’d be played by a beautiful young star in full makeup and gorgeous hair. Characters often tell Miso she looks tired, but you just have to take their word for it.

After a while, it’s not that hard, however, due to the film’s unyielding misery. There are some cute jokes throughout, but by the time its running time ends, it’s difficult not to walk away with at least a little dread regarding all tomorrow’s potential horrors. If they’re out for someone as pure and modest as Miso, they are out for all of us.