Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: Future 38

future 38

Future 38 has a pretty cute concept in that it pretends that it’s a lost film from the thirties which is being presented here for the first time. With an introduction from Neil DeGrasse Tyson (shot long before the current allegations, and his appearance is thankfully a brief one) he tells us that it was in fact the first ever colour film, a screwball comedy made in 1938 that’s only recently been found, and which is set in the far future year of 2018.

The plot is fairly inventive too, with Hal Hartley regular Robert John Burke’s General Sportwood recruiting an initially reluctant guy called Jack Essex (Nick Westrate) and persuading him to travel to the future so that he can bring back a weapon which will stop World War II from ever taking place. These initial scenes are shot in black and white but once Essex reaches the future / present we’re suddenly in a very brightly lit technicolour world, and what a world it is, with many of today’s technological advances present but in a delightfully skewed way. So while there is a 24 hour news cycle it’s actually a guy on a unicycle handing out newspapers, their version of the internet prints out answers on ticker tape, and though there is video calling you have to deal with an old fashioned operator before being put through to the person of your choice.

Director / Writer Jamie Greenberg plays around with this idea a lot and it’s a joke he occasionally stretches a little too thin, but most of the time it’s inventive and pleasingly daft, with texting, McDonald’s and CNN not quite being what you might think they are in this strangely off take on modern day life. Fortunately it’s not just an excuse to spoof the ways of the modern era, as with most screwball comedies there’s a romantic element in the form of Glow’s Betty Gilpin who plays Banksy, the owner of a flophouse who meets Essex and after a fair amount of verbal sparring slowly starts to fall for the man.

future 38 a
Future 38’s Version Of McDonald’s, Which Is How I Wish It Was Too

There’s also a fair few throwaway gags in the form of magazine covers (with one declaring “Mime – Radio’s latest craze”) and all round silliness with various different characters, including Banksy’s friends (Ilana Becker and Tabitha Holbert, both very funny), one of whom amusingly devises the first part of riddles but not the actual answers. Greenberg also gets a lot of mileage out of Essex’s confusion with life in 2018 as he’s shocked women have jobs despite being of marriable age and that gay women have been able to get married for over forty years, while his delight at the sight of a see-thru plastic bag is a very funny moment.

The dialogue is mostly spiky and though it may not be up there with the very best of the screwball comedies from the thirties and forties there’s a lot of lines that will make you smile (with “Why don’t you prick your finger, or vice versa” being the one which made me laugh the most), and only a couple will lead to the occasional groan. The plot moves at a decent pace as Essex eventually discovers that the weapon he needs is at the German Consulate, where he meets Hitler’s son, Lamont, who’s secretly a Nazi and who plans to foil Essex’s plan, and this allows Greenberg to throw in a fair amount of slapstick comedy in to the film.

Despite it’s low budget it mostly looks impressive, they’ve used various effects to make the film print look old but it’s thankfully not too distracting, and the acting from our heroes is impressive throughout with Gilpin especially making for an appealing and sassy lead. The odd joke doesn’t hit home and there’s a brief bit of fourth wall breaking that isn’t needed, but otherwise it’s a tight, smart, charming work and an extremely appealing one at that.

Alex Finch.

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