For whom did Judge Brett Cullum review this quirky performance-art indie feature?
Christine Jesperson: [seeing his bandage] Whoa, what happened?
Me and You and Everyone We Know is a quirky independent film which had some people singing its praises as "the best film of the year," while some called it "so nonlinear and unrealistic" that it was equivalent to a "cinematic abortion." If you're like me, that means the film is a "must-see" just to see where you fall. The film was written and directed by one of its lead actors, performance artist Miranda July. She's worked a lot in experimental films, but this is her first venture in making a real movie. Right there you should get a feel for whether the movie will be your cup of tea—"written and directed by a female performance artist who is also the lead." If you like movies that speak a completely unique language, and don't mind performance art, you should be fine. In fact, if you're open and willing you might fall in love with the film.
Facts of the Case
Christine Jesperson (Miranda July, in a role tailor made for herself by herself) is a struggling performance artist who works with digital film projects, and pays her bills by shuttling old people around in her car, which has been designated "The Eldercab." She dreams of finding a mythical perfect man who can connect with her, but she's finding it impossible to make this longing a reality. Richard Swersey (John Hawkes, Deadwood) is a recently-divorced shoe salesman struggling with building a new home out of a cramped apartment with his two boys. He wants amazing things to happen, but they always seem to go wrong. At the start of the film, he burns his hand by trying to do a trick to impress his sons—lighting his hand on fire. Unfortunately he forgets that the trick requires rubbing alcohol, and not the lighter fluid he uses with dire results. He meets Christine at his job, and she becomes instantly enamored with him. The entire movie consists of the pair trying to connect, with Christine's skewed vision of the world getting in the way as much as Richard's remoteness due to his newly single status. Around the pair are an ensemble cast of adults and children who are also reaching out to connect with anyone, and finding it harder and harder in the age of technological wonders. One particularly humorous episode follows Richard's six-year-old son who enters a "sex chat" room on the Internet, and provides a mystery lady online with his fantasy of what he thinks intimacy should be. Not surprisingly, the recipient thinks she's found her soul mate. The entire movie consists of skits and tone poems where communication breakdowns or breakthroughs occur.
Only a woman could write this movie and get away with what Miranda July does. There are a lot of disturbing scenes where children explore their sexuality, but it is done in such an innocent way they all come off charming. Had a man directed this, he'd be branded as a pervert, working with lurid images bordering on the obscene. But through the eyes of Miranda, it all ties in to the adult world nicely and feels natural. Her voice is unique, and it's that quality that makes Me and You and Everyone We Know either resonate deeply or disorient its audience. The movie is totally hers, even though she only plays one character in a large ensemble. It's as if she took each actor aside and said "This is how I would do it," and then let the camera roll. Her quirky performance artist voice comes out of all the characters, and if she ever adapts this to stage, it could be a one woman show.
Despite the singularity of the voices, the film still deals with everyone's not being able to connect. A running theme of the movie blames part of this on the Internet, but it's an age-old problem that transcends technology. The Internet has just made it even more anonymous and convoluted. Think about the millions of people on-line at every second messaging back and forth with people they will never meet or ever know. Miranda's little movie drives this point home, but it aspires to look at even more layers of miscommunication and awkward exchanges. Every scene concerns at least two people who misunderstand each other's intentions for almost the entire running time. Sometimes this is comical, but more often than not it also creates a sad tone that will speak to a lot of people. It's quirky as hell, but it touches on the universal truth that we will never really know each other no matter how hard we try.
The transfer on the disc is quite beautiful. I noticed some edge enhancement in spots, but it was minor enough that most people will have a hard time spotting it except in the computer screen shots. Colors are warm, and flesh tones are real. Not a scratch or fleck on the print, and it has a digital clarity that speaks volumes about how far independent cinema has come in terms of picture quality. The audio track is full surround, but it's mainly a vehicle for dialogue, and uses the center speaker the most. Directional effects are confined to musical cues and ambient noises. It's an attractive package that should please viewers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If any movie ever needed a commentary track, Me and You and Everyone We Know is one of the strongest candidates I have come across. I've read many an interview with Miranda July, because she was the darling of the Sundance Film Festival, where the movie was discovered. I know she has a lot to say about her movie, and it's odd the makers of the DVD didn't include a chance for her to talk about the process. The only extras provided are a half-dozen deleted scenes that center on the children in the movie. Most of them are funny enough to be interesting, but none of them feel like they should have been in the movie proper.
More than a few people will find this movie odd, and will not be able to tolerate it for more than fifteen minutes. If you don't like the quirky view of the filmmaker, you're in for a rough ride. It is strongly tied to the principles of performance art, with heavy symbolism, meaningful metaphors, and grating inner monologues that go on and on. This film desperately wants to connect with you, but if you're not open to it, it will make your head feel like it's going to explode. What makes the film so strong is also its greatest weakness—it speaks its own language. And it does not give a damn if you don't follow the translation.
If we were playing The Player's cross-breeding movie game, Me and You and Everyone We Know would be Amélie meets Sideways. I liked this movie a lot, and I easily slipped into its quirky charming rhythms. To me it truly is one of the better movies of 2005, in that it's a daring original piece of work that simultaneously feels intensely personal and universal. But then again I admire a lot of female performance artists, and I adore funny smart women who speak in loopy poetic riddles as if they were channeling Tori Amos. If you're the type of person who would run from a woman with a hope chest and a digital camera searching for her Prince Charming while spouting poetry about her shoes, then you'll want to ankle away from this film the second it starts. It's breathtakingly original and fiercely unique, but that means it is also uncompromising. It easily fits into the great film category, because it expands the medium of film to high art and still manages to entertain.
Guilty of being a movie that works only on its own terms, Me and You and Everyone We Know is the "love it" or "hate it" experience of the year. Sony is guilty of not allowing the film to explain itself other than as the tone poem of a feature that graced art houses across the country. Fortunately for Miranda July, Me and You and Everyone We Know expresses itself well enough to make it one of the best viewing experiences of the year.
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