Me and You and Everyone We Know
The conceptual artist Miranda July's new (and first) film bears a note appended to its review by A.O. Scott in The New York Times. The note states that the film "is rated R" because "it has some disconcerting sexual content and language." This is true; it does. And if I tell you that that sexual content and language involve, in part, a six-year-old boy (the adorable Brandon Ratcliff) you may well be upset. On the other hand if I tell you what that sexual content is I will just spoil some of the wittiest - and most innocent - moments in recent film history, because Ms. July's film, if it is anything, is a sweet and delicious and hilarious study of the ways in which all of us, adults and children alike, are, and should perhaps try to remain, innocent; or at least unbothered by societal limitations.
I was so taken by the film, which shared the Best First Film award at Cannes last month (and the Audience Award at Sundance in January), that I was going to start this piece by saying that every once in a while a new film (and filmmaker) comes along that owes little or nothing to anyone or anything that's gone before; but then I remembered an array of recent films that are exactly that - so many, in fact, that they now seem to constitute a genre of their own: They start with "Pulp Fiction" and include "Run Lola Run," "Being John Malkovich," "Garden State," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Punch Drunk Love," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," and "Napoleon Dynamite;" and as I compiled the list I realized that we're actually living in a moment rich with filmmakers who commit to invention, whose work celebrates the quirky, the ironic, the off-kilter, the non-linear, the coolly witty. They've become almost a litmus test for measuring the ironic mind: if you get them, you pass; if you don't, you fail.
In one of those rare cases where chutzpah pays off (think Zack Braff in "Garden State") July not only wrote and directed "Me and You" but is the lead actress as well. The film begins as Richard (John Hawkes), an unfocused, perhaps even unbalanced, newly separated father with visitation rights, tries to reconnect with his two sons by showing them a trick: he pours lighter fluid over his hand and lights it, burning himself severely. It is only about an hour later in the film that he remembers that for the trick to work it is supposed to be done with alcohol and not lighter fluid. Richard is a shoe salesman at a shop in a Los Angeles mall, where he meets Christine (July), who drives an elder-cab, taking her passengers on errands or to doctor's appointments. Christine is an artist who's trying to get a video of her work seen by the curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Meanwhile, Richard's children have quite a life of their own: Peter (Miles Thompson) and Robby (the amazing 6-year-old Brandon Ratcliff) are instant-messaging, when Robby strikes up a strange relationship with - well, I won't spoil it for you. Peter, who seems to be about 13, is shadowed by two girls intent on their own sexual explorations, using Peter as their guinea pig. They, in turn, are made aware every afternoon on their way home from school, of Richard's coworker, who posts very explicit messages to them in his window.
Does this sound strange? Perverted? Salacious? Believe me when I tell you that "Me and You and Everyone We Know" is one of the sweetest films you will ever have the pleasure of seeing. Is it perfect? No; I had some problems with the casting of Mr. Hawkes as Richard; his looks are a bit off-putting for me, and he seems not quite realized enough as a character to carry the weight of the story or a relationship with another adult. Nevertheless, "Me and You" - which was a startling choice for Opening Night at the recent Seattle International Film Festival - is truly the feel-good movie of this dismal spring.