SXSW 2023 Review: MOLLI AND MAX IN THE FUTURE, A Handmade Lo-Fi Sci-Fi Rom-Com Gem
While the age of the classic romantic comedy seems to have passed us by, films like Michael Lukk Litwak’s Molli and Max in the Future remind us that there is still magic to be wrung from well worn tropes if the filmmaker can manage to skew the lens just so to give the audience a new angle on old stories. Love is love is love, it’s complicated, charming, frustrating, funny, sad, and sometimes scary, but no matter the individual settings and circumstances, audiences will always enjoy rooting for the big happy ending, especially when we see ourselves in the characters.
Playing out like a lo-fi retrofuture When Harry Met Sally in space, Molli and Max in the Future is, if nothing else, a labor of love from Litwak. A handcrafted showcase for a team of talented technicians, the film follows a pair of unlikely lovers across some future time and space as they take a delightfully circuitous path to their own happy ending. Eschewing contemporary aesthetics for a neon-soaked bobo-Bladerunner style future, the film uses its absurd settings to skewer present day issues in ways that are often pretty on the nose, but will have the audience laughing nonetheless, often in spite of itself.
Molli (Zosia Mamet) is a hippy-dippy city girl who accidentally runs into Max (Aristotle Athari) while out on a hunt for magical space crystals. When she agrees to take him home because he’s totaled his ride, it becomes instantly clear that while these two strangers are complete opposites – she, a spiritual seeker, and he, a wannabe mech-boxer – it’s equally clear that they are bound to be together. The only real questions are how and when and the answers to those questions lead us through a dozen years, several planets, a celestial sex cult, multiple dimensions, a Trumpian political crisis, failed attempts at romance with others, and a catastrophic space plague. All obstacles that have become very familiar to the world in the last few years.
When Harry Met Sally isn’t a flippant comparison meant to encompass all of what rom-coms have to offer, it is an acknowledged influence on the structure and theme of Molli and Max, and though that could feel derivative, in this case the outlandish settings work. Litwak’s dialogue attempts to capture the kind of charming back and forth of that classic, while also drawing in influences from ’30s screwball comedies in the form of one of Max’s ill-fated paramours, the wonderfully kitschy Mar14 (Erin Drake), while also letting Mamet and Arthari bring their own personalities and occasional improv to the project. Everyone here wears their hearts on their sleeves, and it’s refreshing.
There is no backstabbing or betrayal, there’s no cheating, no one has nefarious, ulterior motives, there is no sabotage or attempt to throw any kind of monkey wrench into this romance, it just takes the path it must. That path has highs and lows, it has mech-fighting superstardom, demigod tentacle sex, borderline incestuous robot sex, tearful goodbyes and heartfelt reunions, just like all love stories do.
Litwak fills his film to the brim with jokes and sight gags, and while some viewers might find the particulars a little hit-or-miss, it’s the central relationship that really holds everything together. Surrounding these two characters is a very expansive universe that Litwak has created. Shot almost entirely on green screen, the film makes less of an attempt to be convincing than it does to immerse the audience in this very handcrafted future. That means lots of stop-motion animation, especially when it comes to the mech-fighting sequences – which reminded me of the final reel of Astron-6’s Father’s Day – as well as a sort of analog aesthetic to represent this unique vision of the future.
Aside from the two very charismatic leads, Molli and Max fills out it’s supporting cast with a fun bunch of recognizable faces who bring the Bruno Kirby/Carrie Fisher energy to the film. Apart from Drake’s Mar14, we get Michael Chernus (Severance), comedian Matteo Lane, Arturo Castro (Broad City), Paloma Garcia-Lee (West Side Story), Okieriete Onaodowan (Station 19), and others who flesh out this story and remind us that love doesn’t happen in a vacuum, even during a space plague.
It’s a fun world to get lost in. The audience will want more of Megalopolis, fish people, the rock factory, the trash dimension, and everything Molli and Max’s future have to offer, but really, we just want them to realize there are meant for each other. Litwak poured his heart and soul into this project for six years and the end result is a charming, romantic, funny romance that audiences are going to lap right up. Fans of lo-fi sci-fi are in for a real treat here, and I fully expect to hear a lot more about Molli and Max in the Future, um… in the future.
Molli & Max in the Future
- Michael Lukk Litwak
- Michael Lukk Litwak
- Aristotle Athari
- Erin Darke
- Okieriete Onaodowan