GFF Exclusive Review: James vs. His Future Self

Year: 2019
Runtime: 94 Minutes

Director: Jeremy LaLonde

Writers: Jonas Chernick, Jeremy LaLonde

Stars: Jonas Chernick, Daniel Stern, Cleopatra Coleman

By Calum Cooper

Time travel is a concept heavily exploited in storytelling. Often with cinema it is used for sci-fi or even action – think “Back to the Future” (1985) or “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014). Canadian duo Jeremy Lalonde and Jonas Chernick however use the idea of time travel for comedic purposes with their feature “James vs. His Future Self” (2020). In doing so they have not only crafted a hilarious, and surprisingly sentimental, ode to the present, but they give the term “you are your own worst enemy” a whole new meaning.

Chernick is the titular James, a brilliant scientific mind who wants to unlock the secrets of time travel. But he is an obsessive workaholic, devoting virtually all of his time to his research, neglecting his sister Meredith (Tommie-Amber Pirie) and best friend Courtney (Cleopatra Coleman) in doing so. One day James is confronted by a strange taxi driver (Daniel Stern). This man is James from the future. He has travelled back in time to warn James that if he invents time travel he will lose everyone he cares about, resulting in James literally clashing with himself.

james vs
Jonas Chernick and Daniel Stern in James vs. His Future Self (2019)

“Slapstick and raunchy humour have informed much of Lalonde’s filmography, and there is still plenty here – how the two Jameses figure out they’re the same person is right up this alley of comedy.”

Comically speaking this is a terrific idea for it pits various dualities against each other. The past versus the future, work versus life, and youth versus experience. But perhaps, most humorously, it results in two varieties of cynicism directly opposing one another. Present James is tunnel-visioned in his scientific goals – goals which on their own are good to have but threaten to eclipse his social life. Future James comes to rectify this, but has also been shaped by his own experiences – experiences Present James is yet to live.

We are treated to a variety of comedic styles because of this. Slapstick and raunchy humour have informed much of Lalonde’s filmography, and there is still plenty here – how the two Jameses figure out they’re the same person is right up this alley of comedy. Yet “James vs. His Future Self” offers a more diverse range. Future James’s jaded sense of righteousness is a stark contrast to Present James’s egocentric aspirations, and this contrast generates the biggest laughs. Stern is such a great physical comedian in terms of expression and exaggeration that he melds wonderfully into the role. His fluency in sarcasm and ranting is music to the ears. Meanwhile Chernick’s more subtle mannerisms and adorkable delivery make for the ideal folly. Their chemistry is top notch.

But the film’s character work is its strongest attribute. The core theme is appreciating the time you are in now, made all the more impactful by having time travel as the primary backdrop. James can be quite a frustrating character at times with his fixation on his work, but intentionally so. He’s never unlikeable due to Chernick’s performance and Future James keeping him in check. But in his endeavour to master the future and change the past, he is neglecting the present and all the riches it possesses in the form of human connection. It’s a necessity so easily lost on those who devote all attention to merely one aspect of their lives. Having a version of himself with rough hindsight is both a clever and mirthful way of directly confronting James over this.

ames
Daniel Stern in James vs. His Future Self (2019)

“James vs. His Future Self” is defined by its jovial sense of humour and big-hearted messages. It flows briskly and provides consistently eruptuous laughter, but contains the moral substance to back it up”

The film’s female characters add refreshing layers to this. James’s best friend Courtney is not just a prize for James to win in the end – she’s a scientist with her own aspirations. She would love to have James in her life, but she is going to do what is best for her, even if that means reluctantly letting him go, as James’s ego threatens to do already. Meanwhile, Meredith serves as James’s rambunctious, and sometimes drunk, voice of reason, and James’s Nobel Prize winning boss Dr. Rowley (Frances Conroy) serves as a harsh projection of what James could one day become.

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Jonas Chernick and Cleopatra Coleman in James vs. His Future Self (2019)

Add it altogether and you get a film that is not only funny but has its heart squarely in the right place. The cast, and kinetic direction, both enhance this. But, like all the best films, it is in the strength of the script where the film’s true value can be found. A skillful juggling act of thematic weight and several comedic styles, “James vs. His Future Self” is defined by its jovial sense of humour and big-hearted messages. It flows briskly and provides consistently eruptuous laughter, but contains the moral substance to back it up, as shown by the incredibly touching final scene. Frankly, films like “James vs. His Future Self” understand why the present is a gift.

4 stars

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