SXSW 2023: MOLLI AND MAX IN THE FUTURE Exudes Charm and Creativity

A quirky rom-com about a mismatched but meant-to-be couple in the far-flung future

The rom-com is one of the most enduring film genres. Formula and familiarity. Audiences expect some formula and familiarity, but for those features that become truly beloved, both a fresh take and palpable chemistry are needed. Writer/director Michael Lukk Litwak’s Molli and Max in the Future certainly tick the boxes in both regards. It’s a highly creative rom-com shot through an absurdist lens, which hurtles the genre into the far-flung future and shows that despite our societal and technological advances, our love lives are as complicated and messy as ever.

Fate brings two souls together when Molli (Zosia Mamet) collides with another spacecraft while navigating an asteroid belt looking for magic space crystals. Max (Aristotle Athari), the pilot of the other vessel, manages to eject; after being rescued, he cajoles Molli into giving him a ride home. A spiky introduction gives way to banter and the forging of bonds between the pair. Molli shares her aspirations to embrace spirituality and space magic. Max is more down to Earth, an inventor who has dreams of making it as a mech-fighter. Sparks are obvious, but they go their separate ways. We follow them over the next decade as their paths continue to cross, featuring reunions where they reconnect, catch up, and resume their sparring. Along the way, they learn about demi-God-led sex cults, liaisons with androids, fish people, parallel universes, and trash dimensions. Obstacles and opportunities feed into the ever-growing bond between this mismatched yet meant-to-be pair.

If that all sounds like a lot, you’re right: it is. Molli and Max absolutely brims with content and creativity. Litwak’s script looks to transplant many of our concerns and issues over the past few years into a far-flung future. Think celebrity culture, ecological disasters, a universal pandemic, and even a Trumpian politician looking to reign genocide down on the galaxy. By wrapping these elements around this burgeoning romance, Molli and Max highlights how much of our lives and surroundings fuel fears that hold us back from growth and the pursuit of happiness. Citing When Harry Met Sally as inspiration in the film’s Q&A, Molli and Max certainly evokes the warmth, sparkle, and slight screwball edge of Reiner’s classic. The rather relentless, off-beat brand of humor might not be for everyone, and there are some misfires (and pacing problems) in there. However, the jokes and visual gags come at such a fast rate, it doesn’t really matter.

This surreal, multicoloured galaxy is brought to life with a fusion of analog tech, neon-soaked skylines, and stop-motion animation–a charmingly clunky mashup of Brazil, Tron, Ghost in the Shell, and Blade Runner aesthetics. The imagination far exceeds the budget, but what is realized via green screen tech fits the tone and quirkiness of the film like a glove.

Even with the slathering of sci-fi, the focus is still on this couple. The chemistry between Mamet and Atharia is palpable, and each does sterling, expressive work to flesh out both their roles as individuals and as a couple. Crucially, they make you root for the success of this pair. Michael Lukk Litwak’s film is clearly a labor of love, with everyone involved reveling in this creative sandbox. An absurdist, offbeat, sci-fi take on current-day cultural issues, along with an ever-so-familiar tale of love, Molli and Max is a rom-com that embraces the alien, but remains ever so human.

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