Let’s get it right out of the way: yes, James vs. His Future Self is going to get compared to the 2012 Rian Johnson classic, Looper. There’s no two ways around it: both involve a man traveling to the past and battling his younger self in hopes of changing the future, but that’s where the similarities end. Whereas Looper is a straightforward action picture with a totally different ethos and goal, James vs. His Future Self is built on the kind of comedy and humanity which director/co-writer Jeremy LaLonde consistently delivers.
After the wall-to-wall laughs of How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town and The Go-Getters, LaLonde steps back into a more relaxed mode, choosing to let lead character James (co-writer Jonas Chernick) navigate his way out of the hole he’s continually digging. You see, James is a scientist aiming to solve the mystery of time travel, but it’s taken him completely out of the social arena. His pure obsession with this project have stunted his interactions with everyone to the point where even his sister Meredith (Tommie-Amber Pirie) can’t stand being around him.
Chernick, also seen in both Orgy and The Go-Getters, grants James a soul, but one that’s barely in the real world. He exists solely for solving this conundrum, missing out on movie night with his friend and co-researcher Courtney (Cleopatra Coleman) and totally spacing out on dinner with Meredith. But that’s all about to change with the appearance of Daniel Stern as James’ titular future self, wild-eyed, unkempt, and possessing a thinly-veiled mania kept in check by the same focus young James gives to his work.
Older James being in younger James’ timeline speaks of two things: 1) that James successfully solves time travel, but 2) he’s destined to live the rest of his life alone and in hiding, and future James wants to save the younger from the same fate. As they’re the same person, older James knows his counterpart has a serious thing for Courtney, and his life in isolation has made him willing to do anything – even kidnap and kill – to change his fate. Don’t concern yourself the intricacies of time travel or fear that this movie might go too cerebral for you; paradoxes, causal loops, the Butterfly Effect, and all the smart-guy stuff don’t really matter.
What matters is freeing younger James from his relentless pursuit of knowledge, which even gets in the way of a possible romance with Courtney. For this objective to be reached, James has to grow in ways he’s denied himself – personally, socially, sexually, and just as a citizen of the world. But will he? Seeing as how older James constantly haunts him at every turn, we grow a little fearful of his choices as each situation unfolds with an unabashedly gleeful, awkward hilarity or a bitter somberness. Both Chernick and Stern give wonderful portrayals of a man pushed to extremes – Chernick’s James going full-on with his work and Stern’s James removed from the pleasures of life – and they make their fight to the happy middle engaging, sweet, frustrating, and laugh-out-loud funny.
Providing standout performances are Cleopatra Coleman and Tommie-Amber Pirie, both of whom establish the backbone of this wild circumstance. Coleman is absolutely stunning and winsome, skillfully emoting her alternating exasperation and optimism with a wistfulness which simply makes your heart go out to her. It’s a performance which makes you wonder how charges haven’t been filed for how she steals this movie from under Chernick and Stern. In the same vein, Pirie turns a full 180° from her piss-and-vinegar character in The Go-Getters and makes Meredith exude a touching sadness at losing her brother to self-importance. The women these two play give the film its true purpose, and Coleman and Pirie fulfill this task admirably.
The film also finds Jeremy LaLonde leveling up behind the camera, attempting new techniques and styles which distinguish James vs. His Future Self from his previous efforts. Featuring the indispensable eye of cinematographer Scott McClellan, LaLonde’s first-time use of the wider 2.39:1 frame (as far as I know) shines in extraordinary ways, especially during a sterling long take which plays with spatial relations between James, Courtney, and the kitchen they occupy during the scene. LaLonde and Chernick’s script has ample opportunities for sight gags and guffaws galore – much of them coming at younger James’ expense – but it also layers its characters full of warmth and sympathy, even when older James turns to more drastic measures.
It’s almost as if LaLonde and Chernick created the antidote for the vitriolic spite of The Go-Getters with James vs. His Future Self without losing any comedic edge or grasp of humanity. After two fairly risqué adult comedies, it’s nice to see LaLonde do sci-fi his own interesting way, spotlighting humor and depth over action and visual effects (although the latter is used fairly effectively in two key sequences). It’s a precious trademark of his, one worth revisiting many times over, and James vs. His Future Self is a welcome entry into his filmic pantheon.