- Miranda July plays the conflicted, emotional contortionist Christine.
*Me and You and Everyone We Know (R)
Kimball's Twin Peak
Think of a work of art that makes you nervous. You like it; it makes you laugh. You identify with parts of it. But the act of liking it leaves you a bit on edge.
That's the effect of Miranda July's intriguing debut film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, a low-budget exploration of the desire for connectedness in the contemporary world. It was lauded at both the Cannes and Sundance film festivals, and has left audiences across the country scratching their heads as they leave the theater enthralled, fascinated, amused and a touch confused.
In the press notes, July explains the inspiration for her oddball romantic comedy: "This movie was inspired by the longing I carried around as a child, longing for the future, for someone to find me, for magic to descend upon my life and transform everything."
That explains one of the handful of child characters in the film, Sylvie (Carlie Westerman), a lonely little girl who spends a good deal of her time comparison shopping for household appliances, filling the hope chest in her bedroom with the necessities of comfortable domesticity. In the imagined dream kitchen of her future, Sylvie's little girl will walk in and she will say to her, "Hi, baby girl. You are a precious treasure," words she clearly never has heard.
It also explains, in part, the strangeness of Peter (Miles Thompson) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliff), children of divorce trying to adjust to their new, shared-custody housing arrangement and time alone with their awkward father Richard (John Hawkes). Peter, sullen and surly at 14, becomes the boy toy of two pubescent girls who want to practice oral sex, and 7-year-old Robby unwittingly enters into a relationship in a computer sex chat room. The results of both plotlines are surprisingly and disarmingly innocent and affirming.
July further explains: "[The movie] was also informed by how this longing progressed as I became an adult, slightly more fearful, more contorted, but no less fantastically hopeful."
Contorted, indeed. If Christine, the character July plays, could tie herself into knots to get the attention of Richard, with whom she is smitten, she would.
Here, the antics of Christine, a performance artist with a day job driving the elderly around Los Angeles, frequently are too self-involved to stomach. Still, there are moments when the writer/filmmaker in July submerges her autobiographical character and makes movie magic. One scene, involving a simple walk down the sidewalk, Richard and Christine side by side, perfectly illustrates the ultimate challenge of a relationship -- to keep it going.
One subplot featuring a caustic art curator is hilarious and self-referential. A second subplot involving an elderly couple in love, and the art Christine draws from them, works less successfully.
Me and You and Everyone We Know is a dance, winding through Ms. July's endless fascination with finding true love and "living courageously, with grace." Funny and profane at moments, overall it is tender, verging on sentimental. And while July herself is a bit hard to take as a screen presence -- we never can forget she's performing -- it safely can be said that as a director, she has a way with actors, especially child actors. Those in this film are unforgettable in their authenticity and heart-rending hopefulness.
-- Kathryn Eastburn