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film fatales #5: me and you and everyone we know (miranda july, 2005)

(Suggested by The Film Fatales)

My favorite anecdote about this film comes from Roger Ebert, who gave the movie his highest rating. Ebert is writing about the character Robby, a seven-year-old played by Brandon Ratcliff. Ratcliff “read my review from Sundance and wrote me a polite and helpful letter in which he assured me he's as smart as an 11-year-old.”

This may make more sense if you’ve seen the movie.

While the central characters are the adults played by Miranda July and John Hawkes, there are several kids in the cast, many of whom have scenes and plot lines concerning sex. I suppose if you objected to a movie where a 7-year-old participates on an online sex chat board, you wouldn’t feel any better if the child actor was “smart as an 11-year-old”. But it’s a sign of how July manages to make creepy things less creepy. The IMDB’s Parents Guide includes, besides its usual section on “Sex & Nudity”, the following comments under “Frightening/Intense Scenes”:

The entire film deals with sexual politics and finding love. Some characters to [sic] that in disturbing ways. Others do it in somewhat more conventional ways. Many will find the majority of the film fairly offensive. Elements of pedophilia, masturbation, oral sex, and general sexual material (especially involving children) are prevalent throughout the whole film.

I don’t want to fill this post with spoilers, so I’ll just note that the above description is fairly accurate, and your appreciation of the movie will vary depending on whether you think it is possible to make a gentle comedy that eases you over those scenes, or if you think the gentle nature of the film merely makes it more disturbing. In truth, there is less than meets the eye. Much of the “offensive” material involves teenagers doing what teenagers do. The 7-year-old has no idea what is going on in the sex chats, and when the other party figures out their online mate is a little kid, the “relationship” ends immediately. Mostly, these scenes exist to show some of the secrets behind the lives of a few adult characters.

I’ve spent so much time on this aspect of the film that I’ve neglected the movie itself, which is not obsessed with childhood sex. It’s about the two adults (July and Hawkes), both of whom are different from similar characters you have seen. Hawkes’ dad, Richard, newly separated from his wife, is a bit clueless about why he was a poor husband, and he’s not exactly the best dad ever. But neither is he just a man who can’t grow up. Oftentimes, the guy will be an eternal kid, but that’s not what we see. Instead, Richard just doesn’t quite fit into normal society. He’s not quite on the Asperger’s level, and he’s not a bad fellow ... he’s just distant. July’s Christine is even more of an oddball, a video artist who has a day job working for a cab company that specializes in driving seniors. She does a better job of dealing with people, and she’s the one who tries to get a relationship going with the soon-to-be divorced dad, but she is also an artist, which in this movie means she is creative (a good thing) but her work is undiscovered (not a good thing).

Me and You and Everyone We Know has the framework of a rom-com, only there’s not much com and even less rom. It relies on quirkiness ... you can imagine Greta Gerwig in July’s role. It is almost aggressive about avoiding overt meanings, enough so that you would be forgiven for wondering if the movie is actually about anything at all. Hawkes is always good, and he’s a welcome presence here. July throws herself entirely into Christine, and it’s an impressive job. It’s her movie ... she wrote it and directed it and starred in it. So if Christine has a tendency to be annoying, July must intend that to come across. The movie is filled with awkward interplay between the characters, enough so viewers might squirm on occasion.

Me and You and Everyone We Know has a lot going for it. It’s an encouraging directorial debut for July, and it has its own tone ... it’s different from other movies, just as Christine and Richard are different. It’s refreshing to see a new voice on the screen. But I think it’s more promising than it is great. #366 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 7/10.

My top films from 2005 (9/10 ratings), in no particular order:

 

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