Romantic comedies are based on clichés, from big city girl finding love in a small country town to rivals to lovers, tricky love triangles, opposites attract and escalating kisses (often when the weather is bad). This isn’t a bug, but a design meant to comfort us with its predictability. Reinventing the rom-com wheel would be missing the point: we want a ride that might be a bit bumpy, but promises to roll us into a cozy, happy ending.
To keep things exciting on this journey, small tweaks are all we really want. and fortunately Molli and Max in the future gets this, unfolds a familiar rom-com plot while boldly choosing a sci-fi setting that offers fresh fun.
what is Molli and Max in the future around?
Written and directed by Michael Lukk Litwak, it basically is When Harry met Sally…. But instead of the titular two-way tour, meeting diners and strolling through New York City, they ride in spaceships, watch “mega-mech battles” in which towering robots battle it out in a gladiator arena, and hop through it universe, quirky planets, and even a disturbing alternate dimension.
Zosia Mamet plays Molli, a hopeless romantic pursuing spirituality and space magic. Aristotle Athari stars as Max, a career-driven inventor determined to build a bot that will turn him into a mega-mech megastar. Their sweet meeting comes through a spaceship accident that leaves no one hurt (beyond Max’s pride). The spark between the two jumps over immediately. They forge a strong friendship through a montage of tours to spacey destinations and endearing conversations. But then fate breaks in and tears the couple apart for years.
The story of the film spans 12 years in which Max and Molli chase their dreams and suffer a rude awakening. But they keep colliding in a vast galaxy filled with frustrations, sex cults, chaotic demigods, tricky technology, genocidal demon tyrants, and painful human issues like crushes and self-doubt.
Science fiction brings with it a unique whimsy Molli and Max in the future.
Litwak’s world – or worlds – blends the familiar with the futuristic. Instead of a screeching television screen, hovering taxis project advertisements for Glorp Cola via holograms. An AI friend (an incredibly on-point Erin Darke) looks human enough, but has metallic flashes and a sharp diction, as if her code had been ripped from a fast-talking lady in a 1930s screwball comedy. In Megatropolis and Oceanus, humans interact with “fishmen” and other interstellar creatures that come to life by attaching meager but effective prosthetics to human faces.
As with many MCU films, much of this film is shot against a green screen. But not how the blockbusters of the MCU, Molli and Max in the future cannot compete with the budget or effects that a giant franchise can. The CGI that creates his shots is more reminiscent of that of 2004 Sky Captain and the world of tomorrow with a confident slathering of Tron.
Neon lights beam across distant cityscapes and accent sportswear for a retro-futuristic flair. Combined with the clever use of costumes and prosthetics, the film brews a low-fi charm reminiscent of a history of junk sci-fi movies. The spectacle — like robot battles and interactions with a horny space animal — has the innocent panache of Saturday morning cartoons. And honestly, it’s okay that these effects aren’t exceptional given the core focus is on the romance that plays so tongue-in-cheekly familiar.
Molli and Max in the future has lively banter and big ideas, for better or worse.
Litwak clearly enjoys sharing glimpses of his amorous galaxy, but he refuses to dawdle. Molli and Max in the future moved, trusting in the chemistry of its stars and the anticipation of its audience. Montages effortlessly guide us through the introductory phase before plunging us into a complicated relationship of suppressed lust, fear of commitment and endless possibilities. Using parallel universes to test-drive their possible relationship is a particularly clever cross between sci-fi and rom-com. In this play, Max and Molli call upon their alternate selves for a comedic, emotionally charged comeback.
Litwak also works on drama clichés in silly twists, like a snarling blue-collar dad who urges his son to abandon his lofty career aspirations and join the family business working in the “rock ‘n’ roll factory.” But the biggest laughs come from the jaunty banter that Mamet and Atharia deftly volley, as well as seemingly timeless one-liners like the searing opening line: “Have a nice life – Live in Midtown!” (Ouch!)
Where the film fumbles is in a second act, which juggles political satire and operates in a thinly veiled satire about President Trump (a bombastic demon named Turboschmuck, played with dour Moxie by Michael Chernus) and the climate crisis. As Max and Molli stare their interstellar stressors in the face, the rom-com’s lightness suffers from too-real memories of actual horror. Story-wise, it makes sense as our heroes — who now like Millennials and Gen Z — grapple with their identities and priorities in the face of political upheaval and overwhelming global catastrophe. But this detour kills the fun and excitement that Litwak and his company had. A bold third act aims to reconcile that sharp turn, but your mileage may vary.
Despite its shaky second half Molli and Max in the future is an imaginative, endearing and entertaining film. Blending sci-fi details with rom-com tropes and a sharp confidence, it charts a daring new path worth watching.
Molli and Max in the future was reviewed at its world premiere at SXSW 2023.(Opens in a new tab)