East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Me and You and Everyone We Know: Back and forth, forever [SFIFF '05 movie note]

Christine (Miranda July) stalks the recently separated Richard (John Hawkes), who would try anything to impress his kids, and gets third degree burns for his trouble. His elder son, Peter (Miles Thompson) longs for deeper connections than blowjobs, while the younger Robby (Brandon Ratcliff) gets all the funniest lines, mostly copied and pasted from cybersex chats.

Me and You is about the act of pretending and about performance as life, but first of all it's about extremely likeable characters played by likeable actors, foremost among them director July, whose Carole Lombard-meets-Laurie Anderson deep ditz may be a complex stack of masks upon masks, but is more likely just the way she is. The movie is notable for what isn't in it - both malice and pain are almost absent: July's world is one in which a kid can safely walk alone through some seedy parts of Los Angeles. Removing malice is unfashionable, brave and, given the gentle tone of the piece, necessary. The absence of pain, however, isn't intentional: July would like us to feel the loneliness of the characters. But their isolation is more a trait of their personalities than a source of suffering. In this respect, the movie is perhaps too glossy for its own good.

The scene that everyone picks out is the walk to Tyrone Street. Richard and Christine decide the walk to the intersection will stand in for the relationship they're not having: first the unrelieved joy of being together, then the getting bored with each other, then the fighting and the split. Only they keep chatting flirtily, about whether the walk represents a year and a half or twenty, until they get to the corner, and then we wonder how they can possibly go their separate ways. Although this is as great as anything in the first 75 minutes of Before Sunset, its emphasis is much more on romantic comedy than the rest of the movie. There are more typical scenes that approach this quality: a goldfish on the roof of a car; a child running his fingers through a woman's hair; a picture of a bird in a tree, in a tree; and the ending, where it seems human actions are motivating the sunrise.

The scene I consider the finest is a quiet one: Sylvie (Carlie Westerman), a tween spending her childhood preparing for life as a homemaker, gets a gift from Peter: a plush bird. ("It's for your daughter.") It would be unusual merely for depicting a platonic friendship between kids of different genders and different ages. But it's remarkable for crystallizing what it seems every filmmaker is trying to say these days: there's something to be gained from thinking like a child. Through July's lens, it doesn't seem like a regression: no redundant literalization of fantasy is necessary. The achievement of Me and You and Everyone We Know is to show how the mundane moments of our lives can be mundanely transformed by imagination.

Best movie of the festival.


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