Future 38 review Betty Gilpin Year: 2017
Director(s): Jamie Greenberg
Writer(s): Jamie Greenberg
Region of Origin: US

Rating: n/a
75 mins

Synopsis: A 1938 screwball comedy set in the far future year of 2018. (Source)

As big budget, mainstream sci-fi continues to crumble under the weight of its hollow spectacle and ballooning budgets, Future ’38 pares the genre to its core, removing the fat to get to its greatest strengths. Posing as a forgotten “lost” film, Jamie Greenberg’s lo-fi delight is impossible to watch without a grin, blending a smart premise with vibrant colors and even wilder ingenuity. From a genre standpoint, this thing’s got all the bases covered, acting as an astute vision of our times, a love letter to classic Hollywood cinema and a slapstick adventure with enough gee-golly to make its alternative timeline a pure joy. Even performances from wild-eyed leads Nick Westrate and Betty Gilpin are instant wins. Future ’38 doesn’t have the sheen of a million bucks, but has a heart, ideas and excitement that money can’t buy.

The film’s story kicks off by acknowledging its fictional roots in the best of ways. None other than astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, shows up, popcorn in hand to herald Future ’38 as a newly rediscovered classic, and one of the most scientifically accurate time travel films never seen. As the theatre that Tyson is sitting in goes dark, we enter the film to meet Agent Essex (Nick Westrate), who’s been tasked with preventing WWII through a gambit. Using experimental tech, Essex’s mission requires that he travel forward to the year 2018. Once there, he’ll collect a formica isotope that’s been growing powerful with time. The American government hopes to use the isotope to create a bomb that could turn snuff out their German foes. Hurled into the future, Essex is intrigued by what he sees: independent, working women, equality, video phones, disposable plates and more. He’ll also meet a strong-willed woman named Banky (Betty Gilpin), who’ll end up assisting Essex in his race against time.

Perhaps the trippiest thing about Greenberg’s film, is that it isn’t just a story about the future, it’s a film about our past imagining the future. What did this faux time capsule of a film get wrong, and what did it get right? With such a heady, but fun premise in his hands, Greenberg doesn’t disappoint, using nostalgia, naivety, innocence and hope as weapons to dismantle our own ideas about world of today. At the behest of Greenberg’s irresistible wit, the film ends up tackling things like sexism, racism and technology, albeit without ever losing a pep in its infectious step. The dialogue is also snappy, the “futuristic” contraptions are outrageous and the comedy is smart, relying on more than just crude jokes and toilet humor for a breath of fresh air. In general, there’s never a dull moment here, building off of a ticking-clock plot that subverts at every step.

Future 38 review Betty Gilpin Nick Westrate stillsBeyond the film’s easy rhythm, are a pair of leads who imbue everything with natural magnetism. Westrate’s Essex is a brilliant archetype of a yesteryear everyman, oozing with unclouded charm and bright-eyed wonder. Essex feels ripped straight out of a classic film, with Westrate delivering his ridiculous dialogue with utmost sincerity. Complimenting Westrate perfectly, Gilpin’s Banky is the yin to her counterpart’s yang. Gilpin gets some room to play with her character, who through the film’s premise is a stylized version of a modern woman, complete with dry, satiric delivery and a commanding slant. Gilpin matches Westrate note-for-note, in many ways acting as the film’s real lead. Together, both performances aren’t too self aware as to ruin the illusion, but never feel like a succession of stereotypes. Each performer brings their own personality to the story, allowing their characters to really stand on their own.

At a time when nostalgia threatens to suffocate anything original, Greenberg’s meta view of the past and present has ideas and substance that matter. Future ’38 is also a reminder that the best sci-fi comes from dissecting what we know about the world around us, and this film’s witty awareness is what makes it so rewarding and fun.