Fearless, unsettling `Me and You'


July 15, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Disturbing, maddening, often confusing, but also charming, engaging and challenging in all the best ways - first-time writer-director Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is an absolutely fearless film that isn't afraid to push an audience's buttons. There's a lot to like here, perhaps just as much to dread, but a tremendous amount to admire.

At its core the story of Christine (July), an insecure performance artist pursuing a tentative relationship with Richard (John Hawkes), a wary and emotionally stunted shoe salesman, Me and You is really about how people talk and relate to one another ... or don't. It's about communication in the 21st century, how impersonal our relations with one another have become. And while it doesn't come down hard on whether that's good or bad, it stresses that's the way things are, and it would be better if we figured out how to deal with it.

The film weaves several stories together, all involving people who live in the same neighborhood and interact to varying degrees (much as Paul Haggis' Crash did earlier this year).

Richard and Christine serve as the centerpiece, but there are also Richard's two young sons, engaging in a chat-room conversation with a nameless, sex-deprived correspondent who has no clue how young they really are; Richard's co-worker, who seems intent on calling the bluff of two foul-mouthed teen girls outside his apartment; a pre-adolescent girl, who befriends Richard's older son and shows him the hope chest she plans someday to pass on to her daughter; Christine's father, who endured a loveless relationship with her mother - you can see Christine blanch whenever he casually puts her mother down - and has finally found emotional fulfillment, with a dying woman; and the head of a local art museum, who no longer can distinguish between the real and the contrived.

Me and You is at its most beguiling when Richard and Christine are onscreen. She's a bundle of insecurities, determined to avoid the sort of emotional dead-ends her father has had to endure. Richard doesn't know what he wants - he's still wrestling with why his wife left him - only that he needs something to fill the emotional hole he feels inside. She sees something in him, but he sees nothing in himself, forcing them to engage in a stilted emotional two-step whenever they meet.

The film is most inflammatory when the kids are onscreen, in situations any sentient adult is going to find uncomfortable, speaking words that one would hope no pre-teen even knows. But they do; Me and You approaches teen concepts of sexuality by acknowledging they exist, while suggesting they may have little to do with reality. In the end, the kids are still kids, even if their vocabularies suggest otherwise; if the film has a weakness, it's in the assumption that the world is basically benign. Still, in a culture where movies lean toward the worst when it comes to teenagers and the world in which they're growing up - see 2003's Thirteen for a perfect example - it's nice for a movie to allow for something other than gloom and doom.

There's a precociousness to Me and You that belies a first-time filmmaker, an intelligence that allows it to raise questions without pat answers, and an honesty that allows it to venture where other movies fear to tread. There's also a gentle humor and earnest wistfulness that help it walk the line between tragedy and whimsy. It would be hard to come up with another movie this year with so much going for it.

Me and You and Everyone We Know

Starring Miranda July and John Hawkes

Written and directed by Miranda July

Released by IFC Films

Rated R (sexual content involving children, and language)

Time 90 minutes

Sun Score ***1/2 (three stars and one half star)

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