“Molli and Max in the Future” Review: “When Harry Met Sally…” in a galaxy far, far away

Romantic comedies rely on clichés, from the Big City Girl finding love in a small country town to rivals and lovers, awkward love triangles, opposites attract and over-the-top kisses (often in bad weather). This is not a problem, but a plan meant to comfort us with its predictability. To reinvent the rom-com wheel would be to miss the point: We want a ride that might be a little bumpy, but promises to lead us to a comfortable, happy ending.

To keep things exciting on this trip, small changes are all we really want. And luckily, Molli and Max in the future understands this, unfolds a familiar rom-com plot while boldly going into a sci-fi setting that delivers fresh fun.

What is Molli and Max in the future about?

Written and directed by Michael Lukk Litwak, it’s basic When Harry met Sally... But instead of the honorable two-person trip, they’re hitting up restaurants and walking around New York, taking spaceship cruises, checking out “mega-mechanics” where towering robots battle it out in a gladiatorial arena, and traveling across the universe to quirky planets. and even a problematic alternate dimension.

Zosia Mamet stars as Molli, a hopeless romantic in pursuit of spirituality and space magic. Aristotle Athari stars as Max, a career-focused inventor determined to build a bot that will make him an engineering megastar. Their meet-cute comes through a spaceship accident where no one gets hurt (besides Max’s pride). The spark between the two is immediate. Through a montage of tours around space destinations and engaging conversations, they forge a strong friendship. But then fate crashes, separating the couple for years.

The film’s story spans over 12 years, during which Max and Molly chase their dreams and experience some rude awakenings. But time and time again, they clash, depending on each other, in a vast galaxy of frustrations, sex cults, chaotic demigods, mind-bending technology, genocidal demon overlords, and painful human problems like brokenness and self-doubt.

Science fiction brings a unique whimsy Molli and Max in the future.

Litwak’s world — or worlds — combine the familiar with the futuristic. Instead of a flickering TV screen, the floating taxi cabs display ads for Glorp Cola via hologram. An AI friend (a terrific Erin Darke) looks human enough, but has metallic glints and a heavy diction as if she’d grabbed her code from a fast-talking woman in a 1930s sitcom. In Megalopolis and Ocean, the humans interact with “fish people” and other interstellar creatures brought to life by applying sparse but effective prosthetics to human faces.

Like many MCU films, much of this film is shot on a green screen. But different MCU blockbusters, Molli and Max in the future it can’t compete with the budget or results that a big franchise can. The CGI that creates his settings feels more like 2004 Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow with a self-awareness of his slaughter Tron.

Neon lights beam across distant cityscapes and punctuate sportswear for a retro futuristic glow. Coupled with the clever use of costumes and props, the film creates a low-fi charm reminiscent of a trashy sci-fi story. The spectacle — like robot battles and interactions with a horny space creature — has the unmistakable sheen of Saturday morning cartoons. And honestly, it’s okay that these effects aren’t out of the ordinary, since the core focus is the romance that plays like an eye familiar.

Molli and Max in the future it has lively quips and big ideas, for better and for worse.

Litwak clearly enjoys showing off glimpses of his galaxy of love, but refuses to do so. Molli and Max in the future moves, smartly trusting the chemistry of its stars and the anticipation of its audience. The montages happily take us through the getting-to-know-you stage before plunging us into a complex relationship of repressed lust, commitment fears and endless possibilities. The use of parallel universes to give their relationship a test run is a particularly clever crossover of sci-fi and rom-com. In this track, Max and Molly call their alternate selves for a catchup that’s both comedic and emotionally charged.

Litwak also works in dramatic clichés, such as a growling dad demanding his son give up his lofty career aspirations and join the family business working in the “rock ‘n’ roll factory.” But the biggest laughs come from the funny gags, deftly delivered by Mamet and Atharya, as well as seemingly timeless one-liners like the hot exit line, “Have a nice life— living in Midtown!” (Ouch!)

Where the film explodes is in a second act that juggles political satire, working in thinly veiled satire on President Trump (a bombastic fiend named Turboschmuck, played with swagger by Michael Chernus) and the Climate Change Crisis . As Max and Molly stare down their interstellar stressors, the rom-com’s levity suffers under the all-too-real reminders of real-life horror. Historically, it makes sense, as our heroes — who like Millennials and Gen Z now — struggle with their identities and priorities in the face of political upheaval and overwhelming global destruction. But this detour derails the fun and adoration that Litwak and company had. A bold third act aims to reconcile that sharp turn, but your mileage may vary.

Despite a shaky second half, Molli and Max in the future is an inventive, likable and entertaining film. Blending sci-fi details with rom-com tropes and a keen self-awareness, it blazes a bold new path that makes it worth watching.

Molli and Max in the future revised for its World Premiere at SXSW 2023.(Opens in a new tab)

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