"Molli and Max in the Future" is an out-of-this-world adorable romantic comedy that transforms the lowest lo-fi means into charms with a tractor-beam pull. Writer and director Michael Lukk Litwak shoots against a modular LED volume to create a cosmic universe where dating is still Earth-grade awkward. Props remind of resourceful high school theater productions of "Tron" while animation aims for "Blade Runner" or "Real Steel" except no more expensive than catering costs — which is never an issue because Litwak's vision explodes like a starburst of relationship charms. "Molli and Max in the Future" is the textbook definition of an indie darling that executes well above its obvious production restraints, as unique and boundlessly ingenious a film you'll find in today's media landscape.

Zosia Mamet stars as crystal harvester Molli — a human — who meets robotics-loving fish man Max (Aristotle Athari) by crashing into his spacebike. Molli gives Max a ride back to his home planet Oceanus which includes clearly flirtatious banter, and the two strike up a quick friendship. They start hanging out, discussing any topics as their bond tightens — until Molli is selected to lead an intergalactic war on behalf of the almighty deity Moebius (Okieriete Onaodowan), and she leaves for grand adventures. Although this won't be the last time Molli and Max cross paths. Over the next twelve years, Molli and Max keep colliding at random points in their lives, constantly begging the question: is destiny telling them something neither will admit?

Litwak's resourcefulness throughout "Molli and Max in the Future" is as potent and infectious as his time-jumping narrative is realized with stupendous confidence. From the megacity of Megalopolis where robots fight in competitive leagues to starry wars where level seven space witches blast enemy troopers, Litwak owns low budgets like a badge of honor. There's so much weirdness packed into a relationship study between Max's brief fling with a personified A.I. named MAR14 (Erin Darke) to Mollie's sloppy sexual encounters with Moebius's floppy tentacle. Litwak is never afraid of the arts and crafts appeal of Moebius' love flipper or the cartoonish anime animations of Max's mecha brawler, turning these and many more parts cobbled together by cardboard or plastic tubes into visual signatures like an SNL digital short with legs.

A Superstar Cast

Speaking of which, SNL's Aristotle Athari and "Girls" alumni Zosia Mamet shoulder "Molli and Max in the Future" like competition bodybuilders. Their chemistry rockets into orbit as warriors on the battlefield of love, navigating friend zones, crippling vulnerability, and fulfilling partnerships with the most honest portrayals despite sitcom cheesy comedy. It's about their uncertain back and forths, the hesitation as they desperately seek answers that might save them both tremendous pain should they ever try dating and fail. Max is always in love with Mollie, and Athari withholds his crush behind disappointed chuckles like a champion. Mamet is the speed talker and straight shooter who chatters while embracing her character's lack of filter that leads to so much scathing social-anxiety humor. They're meant for each other in professional terms, superpowered to the point where "Molli and Max in the Future" handily stands against studio sci-fi pictures on performances alone.

Ambition propels "Molli and Max in the Future" with hyperspeed boosters, although it's not a buttery smooth ride throughout. Litwak mirrors his parallel dimension after our earthly experience, so he not only bites into dating commentaries like online apps but — to a detriment — addresses finding comfort throughout the Trump presidency (Michael Chernus hilariously plays trashy candidate Turboschmuck) and unraveling happiness during COVID-19 lockdowns. Molli and Max's will they, won't they gathers so much momentum as they keep reuniting and recalling their latest follies apart, but later chapters with direct contemporary American reflections are a minor step back. There's so much expressive ridiculousness as Max rises through the ranks as a battle bot operator and Molli comes to terms with her sex cult community, which is where "Molli and Max in the Future" conceptually thrives. Something gets lost in translation when facades fully disappear, but not enough to log any detrimental complaints.

The truth is, "Molli and Max in the Future" is one of the better explorations of love put to film in recent memory. Molli and Max are allowed to be infinitely messy, apologetically imperfect, foolish individuals because relationships are sometimes sloppy, complicated, and cause us to do irrational things — but they also give life meaning and inspire us to be better. The same way Michael Lukk Litwak will inspire generations of filmmakers to tell their stories with whatever means available because screenplays this expressive and fearless will forever shine like beacons of originality. The do-it-yourself wholesomeness of special effects is just the cherry on top. Bless Zosia Mamet and Aristotle Athari for opening themselves to every uncomfortable conversational sputter or emotional tailspin in the name of showing dating for what it is, and still finding exceptional optimism through it all. "Molli and Max in the Future" will make you believe in a thing called love — just listen to the rhythm of this knockout indie's throbbing heart.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

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