Tomorrow Ever After ★★★½

Imagine a society without pain and suffering; without struggle and greed; without hunger and lies; without ownership and privacy. Imagine a society filled with perfect harmony and unity in their absence, full of honesty, integrity, generosity, and open embrace.

Such an extreme, idealized society would probably border on the edge of creepy, but it's that odd, happy-go-lucky fiction that's offered here in this fairy-tale imagining of a time-traveler who discovers a world very much like yours and mine.

In many ways, Tomorrow Ever After feels painfully authentic. It's deeply aware of the social boundaries we build around ourselves and the people that surround us, and it uses that awareness to toy with the idea of an incessantly optimistic human being breaking those boundaries over and over again. It's a comedy of manners, and certainly a comedy of our time. It depicts the droning, isolationist era of city dwellers and fully utilizes the audience's understanding of prescribed social situations to make fun of the innocent obliviousness, childish over-enthusiasm, and gleeful misunderstandings that our traveler, Shaina, portrays as she attempts to make sense of the social cues and cultural expectations of our time.

The first half of the film finds its home in the comedic interactions between Shaina and her 2015-era accompaniments, Milton and Antonio. The pure physical and dialectical comedy on display here is delightful, and comes with few cinematic endeavors to distract from the social humor. The utter disregard for privacy and personal space that Shaina exhibits as she intrudes on the lives of Milton and Antonio will be met with shameless glee for those of us who've had similar mischievous fantasies in the past.

The latter half is an unfortunate departure from the established comedy, with Shaina jaunting off into a more mobile, isolated and disjointed quest in search of help and answers. Many of the plotlines are undercooked here, and the sequences are peppered with ruminating monologues laid over montages of New Yorkers looking generally uninterested and lonely — a somewhat effective, if heavy, tactic for challenging the audience into action and awareness.

Notably, actor-director Ela Thier prevents her film from being dated too heavily within 2015. Smartphones are deftly absent from the narrative and social dialogue, and though much has been debated about the mobile phone's role in widespread isolation and depression, Thier decisively avoids entering that complex discourse, at least in this first film of a planned trilogy, to make room for a wider rumination on isolation, disengagement, and social anxiety separate from the effects of technology.

At times, the film gets bogged down by pulpy slo-mos, orchestral scores, dramatic over-acting, and an over-fascination with very plain, non-rhythmic reverse-shots. At least one dramatic moment led to burst of laughter between me and the stranger sitting to my left, and there were a couple of misguided and heavy-handed attempts to underline the social profoundness of the film's message. These cinematic additions were a frequent detraction amidst scenes of more authentic documentarian sequences, serving as an obtuse reminder of the social dialogue's artificial underbelly.

Still, while it may not be a perfect film, or even a particularly important film, it is, as actor Nabil Viñas' father puts it, a very timely film. It poses questions about the nature of metropolitan norms; about privacy and ownership; about self-inflicted isolation and communication; about generosity and trust; and about selfishness and greed that we've all thought about at some point in our lives. Shaina comes from an extreme, impossible universe, but you don't need to engage with the plot device for the desired questions to be planted: how would society be different if everyone around us had just a fraction of Shaina's honesty, optimism, and thoughtfulness for her fellow human beings? How much more mentally and physically healthy would we be if more faith and trust could be put into our peers? And how can we start to make inroads, to snap out of our self-inflicted boundaries and engage with those around us?

I saw Tomorrow Ever After at a cast+crew Q&A release screening on Friday night, and I was surrounded by family, friends, and cast members all coming out to support a film with a small budget and an even smaller distribution. Waiting to be seated, it felt as if every single human was thanked and hugged that night, and leaving the theater, a handful of people were filming positive takes to help the crew with word-of-mouth and distribution. I felt elated as I walked amongst them, knowing fully well that I had stumbled into something incredibly personal and familial. I was welcomed into a land of friendship and unity, and I wondered whether we could make it to 2592 after all.