Review by Sean Boelman
If there is a movie that could be called a labor of love at this year’s SXSW, it’s Michael Lukk Litwak’s Molli and Max in the Future. Although it’s rough around the edges and has some obvious flaws, Litwak has made one of the more charming romantic comedies to exist within the sci-fi genre.
Set over the course of 12 years, four planets, and three dimensions, the film follows two wanderers who repeatedly collide and form an unexpected connection with one another. It’s a romantic comedy with an episodic narrative structure, the likes of which we have seen plenty of times before, but with the twist of being set in a sci-fi world.
The movie’s humor is somewhat hit-or-miss, but there are certainly more jokes that land than ones that don’t. Many of the jokes lean heavy into absurdism, getting laughs out of the unadulterated bizarreness of the situation, but there is also some very funny dialogue that takes advantage of Athari’s dry wit.
The film’s commentary on relationships is very honest, albeit somewhat common. The movie isn’t trying to reinvent the romantic comedy wheel, but it’s a quaint romance against the backdrop of a setting that’s anything but. It’s definitely the type of film you are not surprised to see a former SNL player involved in because it has a quirky, sketch-like quality to it.
Still, the character development in the movie feels somewhat conventional, and this ends up holding the film back somewhat. It’s easy to tell where both of their arcs are heading, yet we get fully involved in their adventures — even when they take outlandish turns involving space cults that worship squid monsters.
The make-or-break factor for Molli and Max in the Future is the chemistry of its leads, and it works quite well. Mamet and Athari are both very charming in their roles, but they have an awkward rapport together that is what makes the movie tick. It really sells the “are they friends or aren’t they?” dynamic.
Litwak’s stylistic approach may also be off-putting to some viewers, as its enormously indie approach to sci-fi does have a very low-budget look to it. However, this is a big part of what makes the film appealing. The extensive use of green screen is obvious, but it’s nonetheless impressive how immersed Litwak makes us feel in this sci-fi world.
Molli and Max in the Future has production values that aren’t the most polished, but it’s enormously charming nevertheless. It’s not often that we get to see indie sci-fi movies like this — much less ones that actually pull it off — so it’s worth watching if only for that.
Molli and Max in the Future is screening at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.