USA / UK, 2005
Review by Beth Gilligan
Posted on 30 June 2005
Source IFC Films digital projection
Screening Log: Me and You and Everyone We Know
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
- E.M. Forster, Howard’s End
It’s not difficult to imagine the contemporary Los Angelenos who populate Me and You and Everyone We Know devouring Forster’s words, for it is precisely this sense of fragmentation they spend most of the film trying to outrun. By Hollywood’s decreasing standards, the search for connectedness is a strange subject matter for a movie, but those lucky enough to catch this small gem of a film are bound to disagree. Written and directed by Miranda July, a 31-year old multimedia artist, Me and You boldly ventures where few films do, showing the pain and insecurity behind the longing, and the performances people are willing to put on to render themselves more attractive to others.
While Robert Altman’s Nashville and Short Cuts remain popular templates for multi-character films, many directors have stumbled in trying to recreate such a multi-faceted tableau of human feeling (among the poorer recent efforts are 13 Conversations About One Thing and Love Actually). In this case, July largely succeeds (though on a less ambitious scale than Altman) because of her ability to bring characters to life without dishing out an overabundance of information about them. They are at once easy to relate to and alluringly opaque, blank slates from which the viewer is able to draw on his or her own experience. In this sense, the film mirrors the interactive nature of its director’s performance art installations, featured in previous years at the Whitney Biennial.
Among the fractured souls drifting in and out of the movie’s frames are Christine (played by July herself), a video performance artist who moonlights as a driver for the elderly; Richard, a recently divorced shoe salesman with two sons, 14-year old Peter and 6-year old Robby; Heather and Rebecca, two of Peter’s classmates who are painfully eager for validation of their own attractiveness; Nancy, a lonely art curator searching for a soul mate; and Sylvie, a precocious 7-year old fascinated by Peter. Despite differences of age, race, and class, they share a common bond in their outsider status.
Some critics have suggested that Me and You and Everyone We Know is destined to become this year’s Sideways, forgetting that the latter, despite its indie cast, was a crowd-pleasing (if vaguely melancholy) comedy. July’s film, on the other hand, focuses on uncommon people searching for kindred spirits, and while its idiosyncratic visual style and plot is bound to charm some, it’s also likely to alienate others. If anything, these qualities make Me and You this year’s Before Sunset.
Just as in Before Sunset, the dialogue in July’s film occasionally teeters on the edge of being overwrought or overly precious, yet in both films the directors are savvy enough to yank their characters back to earth just as the audience begins to shift in their seats. Me and You is also punctuated with moments of gentle humor and stark beauty, such as the scene where a girl and a guy who barely know each other walk side by side, casually mapping out a future together. However, just before the scene can reach fairy tale heights, July pulls the rug out from underneath the viewer, showing in painful detail the fallout when one of them oversteps their boundaries.
July’s portrait of adolescent sexuality is also among the most complex (at least in American cinema) to hit screens in recent memory. As Peter, Miles Thompson embodies all the sulky, unsure qualities of a technology-obsessed teen, while Natasha Slayton and Najarra Townsend turn in pitch-perfect renditions of teenage girls looking for validation through sex but also terrified of it. When an older man compliments them on their looks, they coquettishly lie about their age, but later, as the flirting escalates, they worry about their lack of experience becoming transparent and set out to get some practice. Thankfully, July does not allow this plotline to spiral into a lurid tale of innocent girls at the hands of a sexual predator; instead, it highlights the man’s cowardice and ultimately winds up championing the bond of friendship between the two girls.
Although the film ends with the promise of romance between two of its lonely souls, its larger emphasis is on the bonds formed by non-traditional, non-romantic couplings, such as a solo artist learning to collaborate with an old man, or a glum teenager striking up a friendship with an eccentric schoolgirl, or the two girls mentioned above. In July’s world, finding someone who understands you is like finding the perfect pair of shoes: you may not think they’re out there, but once you discover them, the possibilities are endless.