Huppert shines as Nathalie, a philosophy teacher whose mind has always been occupied with asking the next question or formulating the next idea. But she's never applied that to her own life, and certainly not her marriage until it begins to fall apart. And when it does finally end, in a scene that is about as understated as a divorce can be, Nathalie is faced for the first time with a shocking amount of uncertainty. Her philosophy books are no longer selling like they used to (Philosophy books sell at all??); her mother (Edith Scob), an aging model with fierce rebellious past to match Nathalie's, is now basically a helpless invalid in need of constant care; and her favorite student Fabien (Roman Kolinka) is running off to the mountains as part of some weird commune of starving writers. Suddenly nothing is as it should be, and Nathalie must find whatever she needs to navigate the turbulent waters.
Years pass and events of varying degrees of importance happen to Nathalie, and it's fascinating the amount of attention Hansen-Love chooses to spend on them. A crucial death might only get a few moments, while Nathalie's chasing of her mother's overweight cat Pandora might occupy a good stretch. The latter does provide quite a few of the movie's best laughs, but ultimately it's still a trifle compared to other things that occur. What Hansen-Love is able to do, along with Huppert's note-perfect performance, is reflect the impact these things have on Nathalie whether a great of time is focused on them or not. We move in concert with her, experiencing these things right along with her. A different filmmaker would have hammered us over the head with flashbacks or confusingly jumped around in time, but that isn't Hansen-Love's style. She has always shown an incredible skill at depicting the passage of time while capturing the essence of a particular period. Things to Come is a far cry from her lively EDM drama Eden, but her talent as a filmmaker remains absolute. She's able to find humor in the absurd and plumb the depths of sadness and loneliness, so it's a good thing she has an actress like Huppert who can do all of those things simultaneously.
There's one particular scene that captures how refreshingly genuine and human the film is, and it involves Nathalie's attempts to trash an oversized bouquet of flowers. In frustration she attempts to throw them out in her kitchen but can't, so she grabs one of those giant IKEA bags, puts the bouquet in, and tosses the whole thing in the dumpster. My first thought was, "Damn what a waste of an IKEA bag! You can put an entire week's worth of groceries in those things! At least keep the bag!". Two seconds later, Nathalie returns to the room and recovers the bag. Yep, she gets it. Never underestimate the value of a good shopping bag. It's not a laugh out loud moment; just one that makes you smile and recognize something familiar. Despite her privilege and loads of First World problems none of us will ever have to consider, Nathalie lives in the daily details like the rest of us. She can be possessive yet strikingly distant; she's as funny as she can be gloomy, and for all of her wisdom there's an innocence that leaves her open to being hurt. In short, Nathalie is a fully-formed character and the kind all too rarely seen in movies nowadays. Things to Come leaves us happy to have spent a little bit of time with her.
Rating: 4 out of 5