A love letter to the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, Future ’38 is a throwback screwball worth seeing.
Written and directed by Carmen Sandiego veteran Jamie Greenberg, the film stars Betty Gilpin, Nick Westrate, Robert John Burke, Ethan Phillips, Sophie von Haselberg, and Ilana Becker.
The film starts with Neil deGrasse Tyson introducing us to a lost film from 1938. He talks about the science behind the movie and what they got right.
Jake Essex (Westrate) is assigned by General Sportwood (Burke) and Dr. Elcourt (Phillips) to travel to 2018 to retrieve an isotope and bring it back to 1938 in order to help the US take out Adolph Hitler. Of course, it’s not the 2018 with the things that we know to have come true. No, it’s what the filmmakers of the lost film thought 2018 would be. This 2018 still has texting but in the form of super-fast telegrams. There’s facetime but you have to go through Mabel (Young) to connect you. There’s a super computer that knows everything but you have to spend a long time in line.
For Essex, this 2018 is a very strange world. He’s not used to women working outside the house nor is he used to same-sex relationships. He wakes up at a hotel where he meets Banky (Gilpin), flanked by Iota (von Haselberg) and Lux (Tabitha Holbert). By the end of the movie, he doesn’t want to leave her. If there were a way to bring her back with him, I’m sure he would have figured it out.
In this version of 2018, Lamont Hitler (Tom Riis Farrell) is the German Ambassador and it turns out that a Department of War secretary, Elke (Becker), is a German spy and brings back knowledge to Germany. Hitler waits a long time for his revenge and just when it seems he’s gotten it, Matzoh and enforcer Bitter Herb are there to ruin the day.
The hotel’s bellboy (Madison Arnold) is a drunk and from his early appearances, he looks familiar but it’s not until the end that we find out who he is. It’s a fun surprise.
“I decided to make a film that would take a wide-eyed look at the wonders of our time, but from a 1930s perspective,” Greenberg says. “What might 1938 film-makers get right, and what might they get wrong? This was the fun part of writing the script, and hopefully it’s a fun part of watching the film.”
The dialogue in Future ’38 really makes you feel like you’re truly watching an old school classic from the 1930s or 1940s. It’s a love letter in so many ways to those movies and it comes in a form of a hybrid bridging that era with today. In many ways, this is the throwback that La La Land aspired to be albeit in musical form.
The film made its world premiere this past January at the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival, where it took home the Audience Award for Beyond Feature. While no word has been announced yet regarding distribution, you can follow Future ’38 on Facebook, Twitter, or sign up for their mailing list at Future38.com.
EDIT: Future ’38 had a one week theatrical release starting December 1, 2017. As of January 2, 2018, the film is available through Video on Demand platforms.