Me & You & Everyone We Know
directed by Miranda July
(IFC Films, 2005)

One part Garden State and two parts Ghost World, this refreshingly unguarded first film by performance artist Miranda July not only won awards at every major film festival including Cannes and Sundance, but has been getting universally good reviews.

Even after viewing the trailer in advance of tonight's WXPN sponsored screening, I couldn't tell exactly what it was about. There is a good reason for this, as the film is not so much a traditional linear story; it's more like a glimpse into a moment in the lives of some slightly flawed, occasionally damaged and basically unusual characters whose efforts to fight the basic entropy of life and find some basis for happiness are chronicled by July's unobtrusive camera.

The first thing you notice about these characters is that they don't say or do any of the things that you expect movie characters to do. As in Zach Braff's Garden State, July, in her multiple filmmaking roles, seems to have been able to bring her story to the screen with her uniquely personal point of view and sense of humor intact. The next unusual thing about the characters in this movie is that although a good number of them are kids, the movie doesn't treat them as movie kids -- it treats them as people, complete with awakening sexual interests that are presented by July in a humorous, nonjudgmental manner that is totally unexpected.

There are several parallels with Ghost World. First and most obvious are the two young teenage girls who are both amused and repulsed by the attentions of an older male neighbor. There is also a humorous subplot about art; in this case, July's character is a video artist endeavoring to get an exhibit into the local museum of modern art. Then there is the developing romantic interest between the two lead characters, artist and elder-cab driver Christine (July) and shoe salesman and recent divorcee Richard (John Hawkes). The relationships in Me & You & Everyone We Know are as fragile as the characters, and no one in this film seems quite sure of what to do next. July has an appealing capacity to allow her characters to zig just when you expect them to zag.

Richard's two sons from his failed first marriage, ages 7 and 14, are especially well cast. The 7-year-old, with some assistance from his older brother, engages in a hilarious internet sex chat with a concept that might reflect an actual 7-year-old's frame of reference. There's another well-drawn neighbor character in the form of a young girl of about 10 or 11 who is assembling a semi-secret hope chest of household items to form her dowry in the old-time European tradition, as she calls it. The music on the soundtrack is as unusual as the characters, and similarly goes where you'd least expect.

When you've seen one car crash or explosion too many at the multiplex this summer, check out this quiet, amusing, and poignant little movie.

by William Kates
10 September 2005

Me & You & Everyone We Know will teach you a couple things about life:

• Sometimes, trying to save the life of a goldfish is a noble deed, and you'll miss that goldfish when it's gone.

• Always give friends the family discount when you work in retail. It brings good karma.

• Keep the computer out of your kids' bedroom or, at the very least, keep an eye on their chatroom visits.

The first feature by writer/director Miranda July, Me & You is an eccentric movie that gives free rein to July's performance artist background. Essentially, July focuses on a recently separated shoe salesman, a lonely performance artist (played to perfection by July) and their various kids, friends and neighbors. How do they relate to each other in today's computerized, sexualized, hurtling world?

Tentatively. Sometimes not quite honestly. We fumble (as one character says, there's not enough time in today's world for misbehaving adults to take a "time out").

Richard Swersey (John Hawkes) has recently been dumped by his wife and, as she packs up her stuff, he feels the need for a ritual, one that will help their sons, Peter (Miles Thompson) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliff), understand that they once were part of something good.

But Richard can't be bothered with a pedestrian gesture -- instead, he decides to set his hand on fire (forgetting until it's too late that alcohol will burn off, but not lighter fluid).

"I want to be swept off my feet, you know?" he tells a co-worker, waving his burned and bandaged hand. "I want my children to have magical powers. I am prepared for amazing things to happen. I can handle it."

But what he's not prepared for is Christine Jesperson (July), a performance artist who makes ends meet by running a taxi service for the elderly. Christine senses some connection with Richard and, despite an utter lack of confidence, tries to forge some deeper link with him.

In one great sequence, Richard and Christine both leave the department store where he works at the same time and head toward their cars. Their block-long walk becomes a semiwhimsical conversation about lifelong commitment -- the block they're walking down represents their lives: now they're halfway, now they're at the corner and ready for the afterlife. Their subsequent talk in Richard's car, when Christine invites herself into the passenger seat, reveals a flash of his fear and anger, a flare signaling that he most definitely is not prepared for amazing things to happen and that he in no way can handle it.

His boys, meanwhile, have substituted computer chatrooms for chats with Dad. They're soon deep into sex talk despite their tender ages. The younger one knows enough to cut and paste text and how to spell "poop," but that's more than enough.

How do we connect with people? What are OK ways to express ourselves and what ways are just too much for others to handle? What do we do when we're convinced we're the only "oddball" out there -- and what do we do when we find out there might be others just like us?

July's film isn't for everyone; it's billed on the cover as a comedy, which I think sells it short and is misleading. It looks at how we link with others, how we mess up along the way and how important it is to chance it when we sense a connection.

by Jen Kopf
1 March 2008

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