I have said this time and again. I love to be surprised, especially when it’s a good surprise. I now share with you probably one of the most enjoyable surprises I have had in quite a while. The movie is James vs. His Future Self.
James is a theoretical physicist and for some time has been obsessed with time travel. It has become his only passion. He’s so blinded by it that he’s oblivious to his surroundings and all those around him. Suddenly, before his best friend is to leave for Switzerland to work at CERN, James is kidnapped by an older and seemingly crazy man. James is about to receive the shock of his life when he learns that his kidnapper is himself from the future.
I will admit that I was initially skeptical when it came to the premise of this film. Science fiction stories regarding time travel and the meeting of one’s self is not exactly a novel idea, and the first words to echo in my brain when I learned of this movie were “Grandfather Paradox!” Just Google it if you’re unsure as to what that means. However, there is much more going on with this film than I had originally expected. First, this is not so much a hard science fiction and is instead a romantic comedy. The formula for a rom-com is there. Boy has girl but has no idea. Boy decides he wants girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back, and they lived happily ever after. Yes, the formula is there, but that is where the science fiction element turns this film somewhat on its head in a most entertaining way. Writer Jonas Chernick (who also stars as James) spent a great deal of time working and massaging this script to bring these characters to life. Each of the primary players is thoroughly believable, especially James who is a complete science nerd. His motivations are so on the mark that I found myself almost screaming at him whenever he turns around and does something incredibly stupid. Again, because the character is so believable I found that at no time was I taken out of the film-watching experience. Also, the story never ventures into that dreaded realm that I refer to as “idiot plot.” There is no lazy writing here. All of these characters come off as real in their actions and reactions, so when James does something that threatens to lose the girl (Courtney) I practically found myself shaking my fist at the screen saying “You’re too stupid to deserve her!” By making me respond in that manner is proof of the quality of this original script. Other elements help to sell this film, not the least of which is the directing by Jeremy LaLonde. I can pick out an independent film largely by how it’s directed. Even good indies have a certain directorial trademark that identifies them as such. James vs. His Future Self betrays none of that. For this reason, I was never pulled out of the film watching experience and that is due to the strength of the directing. That, along with the cinematography by Scott McClellan show great vision and a sense of maturity with the use of camera angles and lighting, both far and close-up. There is a story that needs to be told, and LaLonde directs this film with great intelligence to enhance that storytelling.
As for the cast, yet again there is nothing here that screams independent film, especially in the casting of the future James (or Jimmy as he’s referred to) and the scientist that young James works for, Dr. Rowley. She is played by the incomparable Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under). This talented actress has already proven that she can play somewhat eccentric parts, and while Dr. Rowley isn’t exactly a major player, she does bring some amusing characteristics to the role that not only delivers some strong acting scenes, she also has one delightful moment that had me laughing out loud.
For the casting of Jimmy, we are given Daniel Stern of Home Alone fame. His turn in that Christmas classic demonstrates the crazy talent he has for playing equally crazy roles. Here he has the challenge of playing an older version of the young James that we see, and yet give him a twist showing that the future has not been kind to him. The scenes he shares with Chernick shows us a slightly more demented version in the older James than we see in Chernick, yet enough of the similarities are there, and when Jimmy decides to go off the rails it is done with the kind of madness that only Stern can deliver so perfectly.
The object of James’ affection is charmingly played by Cleopatra Coleman (The Last Man on Earth). To act opposite someone of James’ character can be challenging at best. She has to be able to stand on her own and not let her character be dominated on the screen, and Coleman manages that quite competently. As Courtney, she also has to bring a certain scientific geekiness to the role if we are to believe that she has been selected to work at CERN and the Large Hadron Collider. However, she also has to show James, as well as the audience, that it’s possible to be a driven scientist as well as know how to live in the moment. Coleman does a wonderful job, which makes the blunders committed by James even more maddening.
Lastly, there is Jonas Chernick as James. I firmly believe that the world has no idea as to this man’s talent as both a writer and actor. His writing in this film is spotless, so I now turn to the actor. It is equally spotless. The best actors have to know when to strongly express, and more importantly when to pull back. Chernick understands the idea of “less is more,” and he employs it in all the right ways. There is one scene in the film where James is watching the interaction between Courtney and Jimmy, and his acting is focused tightly on his almost expressionless face, but through his eyes, you can see how it’s eating away in James’ mind. Another moment shows when James finally understands where he is at with his life and what he must do, and that revelation is shared with the audience by the most subtle of facial expressions. There is an almost “method acting” approach by Chernick that I found to be most impressive.
Since exploring the world of independent films I have discovered that many of the indie films produced are better than some of the movies put out by big studios. James vs. His Future Self is one such movie. I cannot find a single flaw with this film. Everything from the acting, the directing, the cinematography, and even the science (Chernick worked with a particle physicist who consulted on this film) makes this one of the best films I have seen this year!
For its excellent use of science, coupled with a refreshing take on a not-so-new story, along with outstanding acting and directing, I give James vs. His Future Self 5 out of 5 Croissants!!!
James vs. His Future Self will be available on VOD on May 1 in the US. It can be found the following platforms:
iTunes (Preorder here)
Amazon Prime Video
DVD/Blu-ray to follow shortly.