Molli and Max in the Future
SXSW Film Festival Visions Section
Reviewed for FilmFactual.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Michael Lukk Litwak
Writer: Michael Lukk Litwak
Cast: Zosia Mamet, Aristotle Athari, Danny Burstein, Arturo Castro, Okieriete Onaodowan, Erin Darke, Grace Kuhlenschmidt, Michael Chernus, Aparna Nancherla, Matteo Lane
Screened at: Stateside Theatre, Austin, TX, 3/11/23
Opens: March 11th, 2023 (World Premiere)
Relationships can be tricky, and sometimes the timing just isn’t quite right. Molli and Max in the Future is a clever exploration of one such romance, a case of two people who meet and don’t realize that they’re probably perfect for each other. Checking in with them over the course of twelve years, this film adds another dimension – or three – and a few planets to its story of star-crossed lovers failing over and over to finally see what audiences can clearly perceive about their eventual coupling.
Molli (Zosia Mamet) first meets Max (Aristotle Athari) when she’s attempting to harvest a crystal and he gets thrown out of his ship right onto her windshield. When she gives him a ride to the city, they begin talking and find themselves bickering extensively. They gradually become best friends but are separated when Molli leaves to join a cult. Five years later, they meet again and swap contentious comments in a sky taxi, having both changed quite a bit. Years later, they once again meet, this time ready to make amends and to take on the challenge of finding each other the ideal romantic partner, still convinced that they’re not the correct matches.
Writer-director Michael Lukk Litwak makes a staggeringly inventive feature debut with a romantic comedy that credits When Harry Met Sally as among its primary inspirations. These two people go through normal everyday issues but with the added backdrop of a society filled with interplanetary travel and a growing state of decay. Some elements, like a reality show in which Turboschmuck (Michael Chernus) from the Trash Dimension competes with Rachel (Aparna Nancherla) to rule the galaxy, are clear parodies of real life, standing in for the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Others are simply random but fun to watch, like a half-holographic sports game and other technological innovations that feel retrofuturistic in their dated appearances.
What really makes this film, in collaboration with its sharp, witty script and top-tier performances, is the use of practical visual effects. There is something that feels and looks so simple about placing the actors in front of seemingly flat backgrounds that combine animation, hand-built models, and other creative techniques, and it serves to enhance a story that feels strangely believable enough even if it purposely doesn’t look entirely realistic. That’s the beauty of this approach, one which shows audiences exactly enough of what they need to see to find it credible and produces a fabulously engaging landscape in front of which to watch its protagonists engage with each other.
This film starts out fully loaded with humor and doesn’t let up for a good portion of its runtime before shifting towards the dramatic as it approaches its end. There’s a smoothness and rhythm to the script that works exceptionally well, and its actors deliver completely. Mamet, well-trained in fast-talking and quip-delivering from her time on Girls and The Flight Attendant, brings the perfect energy to Molli, who feels oddly grounded despite the things she concerns herself with and is more than ready to call Max out at every opportunity. Athari, a former Saturday Night Live player, matches her on every beat, reflecting her antics back at her with deadpan delivery. They’re a formidable couple, almost more entertaining when they’re knocking each other down than when they’re actually considering true romance.
When Molli and Max in the Future starts to feel conventional, that’s because it’s actively engaging with how life can sometimes be predictable or at least people can want it to be that way when that’s not at all the case. There is a scattered and ridiculous quality to its technological advances, well sent up by phrases like “oh my gods” and “oh my science.” This is a highly intelligent film about smart people who still don’t make the best decisions and the far dumber masses who have contributed to societal decay. It’s a marvelously fun and thought-provoking film that’s both charming and deeply satisfying.