Friday, January 17, 2020

SBIFF ’20: James vs. His Future Self

It is sort of like Looper, but the purpose of the time travel is love rather than contract killing. After years of research, James invented a process for time travel, but he had lost the love of his life long before that. Bitter over his life choices, the scruffy scientist uses his own method to try to convince his younger self to concentrate on the woman he loves instead in Jeremy LaLonde’s James vs. His Future Self, which screens during the 2020 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

James is intellectually brilliant, but an emotional idiot. Even though he is highly attracted to his co-worker friend Courtney, he is too consumed with his work to make any sort of advance. His older self will explain, in quite rough terms, what a mistake that is, but it is almost impossible to get through his younger self’s thick head. Nevertheless, the junior James agrees to finally act on his feelings, in order to make old bitter James (or “Uncle Jimmy” as he is forced to call him) go away. Initially, it all comes as a pleasant surprise to Courtney, who had largely given up on him. Unfortunately, the present-day James hasn’t really changed his obsessive, preoccupied ways yet.

LaLonde and co-screenwriter-co-star Jonas Chernick bring a fresh twist to time travel science fiction, even though they are not overly obsessed with the quantum mechanics of the space time continuum. Their focus is more on the personal, particularly James’ relationship with his older self. Most viewers would probably classify it as a time-travel rom-com, but it has a surprisingly bittersweet sensibility. It shares a kinship with The Wrong Todd (which could even be described as poignant at times), substituting time travel for parallel universes.

Daniel Stern is consistently funny as Future James, and also hits the right notes of nostalgic regret during his serious dramatic scenes. Frankly, he outshines Chernick’s current James to such an extent, it becomes a bit of a comparison problem, even though they share an appropriate resemblance. Cleopatra Coleman also makes a strong impression playing Courtney with intelligence and warmth. Her character demonstrates smart people are not always socially awkward geeks.

James vs. is another example of effective speculative fiction that requires virtually no special effects. It is a well-written film that cleverly uses the fantastical premise to examine some pretty universal themes. Highly recommended, James vs. His Future Self screens again today (1/17) and tomorrow (1/18), during this year’s SBIFF.