Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Recent Watching: Me and You and Everyone We Know

Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)
Written and Directed by Miranda July

With all the stories going around about the new IFC Theater’s labor disputes (they refused to hire union projectionists), I expected it to be another corporate Turkish bath, with large ladles of butter waxing me anesthetized while scuttling quarters out of my pocket. On the contrary, it was one of the most pleasant excursions to the theater I’ve had in years, and the large, blue cushions – these aren’t chairs, mind you – make you wish Loews used their money for furniture rather than a fifth concession stand.

For the record, the IFC Theater has only one concession stand, and it is rather small. But, they still do charge three bills for that small drink.

You know, I really walked out of that theater optimistic for the future of the movie-theater, because it was the first time I had a taste of what it would have been like to see a movie thirty years ago: there were two unannounced shorts before the feature. So unannounced that both times I thought they were the start of the movie I bought a ticket to, Me and You and Everyone We Know. And what good opening scenes they would have been.

The first was an animated short was called Garden of Delights, and was made by Jeff Scher. The drawings are so archaic, so primitive that they look like sketches strewn together to form a demo for a later project. Flashing on the screen are inconsistencies in the background, a British flag, a stamp, or a newspaper clipping, while the main action plays out smoothly. The deliberate roughness of the animation is refreshing when compared to the CGI gloss of so many mainstream animated features, and it allows you focus more clearly on the impressionistic kinesis of the images.

When John C. Reilly appeared on a street corner, filmed in black and white, I immediately thought this was the opening scene of Miranda July’s film. Actually, it was a short film she wrote (which was directed by Miguel Arteta). Reilly is conducting a survey; he wants to know, Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody (also the title of the film)? First, a woman is pretty sure she is. Second, a man is ultimately positive that he is not. Reilly, perhaps out of pity, offers the man an orange. Mr. Unloved takes one and asks for two? His wife would like one. Then, he asks for three – perhaps not for anyone in particular, but just because he’s wandered upon a good deal. Unloved as though he may be (but still in a relationship on good enough terms to share fruit), he seems optimistic and unconcerned with the present. Either he doesn’t care that he isn’t anyone’s favorite person; more likely, he is beyond such confidence issues.

It is interesting that July wrote such a character, as the ones in her feature length, directorial debut Me and You and Everyone We Know, are anything but assured about the future. They are unsatisfied with the present and unsure about the future. They seem to share a particular neuroses with characters found in Woody Allen’s films – they are a tad compulsive, somewhat anti-social and irreversibly neurotic, and this is where their charm comes from.

Whereas Allen’s characters are often caught in a never-ending present tense (never able to foresee the future) and haunted by the past, July’s characters are like subjunctive verbs. They are always looking at the future, both doubtful of what will come, but hopeful that something good may come along too; they are never aware of the present. This is best described in Sylvie, a pre-teen who is preoccupied with creating her dowry. She fills it with kitchen utensils bought under the presumption that they will not go out of style in twenty years.

The rest of the story is blanket-like: it fits nicely in your lap, but its impossible to count all the threads. Like Magnolia, it is a collection of characters whose lives intermix fleetingly, yet they all affect one another. I will mention two characters in particular, Richard, a recently separated father who works as a shoe salesman, and Christine, a cabbie for the elderly/artist seeking exhibition/wandering young maiden looking for love.

While the acting is very good, the zealous direction from July can undermine the understated performances. Example: after a jokingly unemotional, purely aesthetic discussion on art and digital media, July cuts to a young boy staring at a computer. There is a screensaver of the universe, of planets slowly turning. It is a totally unaesthetic, energy saving device, but the boy experiences so much emotion through it. The scenes form a telling dialectic, but the irony overkills the point.

Another scene finds Christine on her way to find Richard at the shoe-store, but he is speaking to his wife (they are separated). From across the store, however, it looks as though they are lovers, and Christine jumps to conclusions and tries to sell the wife a talking picture frame (it says “I love you”) before leaving the store. Cut to her in a car repeating, “Fuck” this or that. She then scribbles, “fuck,” on the inside of her windshield.

Her directing is overly emphatic, and often it exaggerates the otherwise meaningful expressions within the film.

Related to this is the permeating search for something profound. The typical ending to scenes is a slow zoom-out while the characters stare at the camera: a moment of silence that, like the directing, drives home a point so hard that it breaks through the back of the garage and runs over the dog. July should be more content with her characters’ discontentedness; profundity rarely accompanies overstatement, as her film shows.

During the film, these quirks bothered me much more so than now (a visit to the IFC bathroom, complete with a moat-like basin to collect the water from the faucet, certainly excited me, as well). But I think the main reason that I can’t seem to dwell on the faults is the last scene, a perfect example of the unexpected charm and cuddle-awe Me and You can offer.

Richard, preparing the house for a visit from Christine, tries to dispose of a framed picture of a bird by throwing it in some bushes. Christine arrives and cheerfully suggests trying a different bush. They both agree that it doesn’t work there either (these “games” can either be drudgery or uplifting – here, I find them the latter). Then Christine sees a tree across the yard. The painting fits, and they decide to leave it there. The final shot is a fade-out of the painted bird with the real branch in front of it. Reality has breeched the art. Even if the message of the shot makes you wince, the way it describes the preceding scene seems justly fitting.

-Cullen Gallagher

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