July 29, 2005

Me and You and Everyone We Know

Directed by Miranda July Starring July, John Hawkes and Miles Thompson

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

With a still photograph of two silhouettes against a seaside sunset placed in front of a camcorder, performance artist Miranda July adopts two voices and adds narration to the image. "If you really love me, then let's make a vow. Repeat after me ... I'm gonna be free. I'm gonna be free ... Now let's kiss and make it real, okay? Okay." Such a bizarro opening mono-dialogue immediately suggests the film to follow could be utterly brilliant, totally disastrous, or - in the case of July's Cannes/Sundance-winning feature-length filmmaking debut - both.

With her reputation from multimedia installations at Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim as well as radio plays on NPR, one would expect July to follow the footsteps of Guy Madden and Matthew Barney into esoteric avant-garde cinema. But instead she paints a portrait of alienation and fragile connections so wacky and heartfelt, it's virtually unprecedented. Me and You and Everyone We Know is about people with ideals and daydreams, who awkwardly tiptoe through the weary world and sensitively brave its reality checks. As the opening suggests, the film is a series of ceremonies and rituals the characters devise to clumsily strive for that picture perfection.

July's Christine is a struggling artist moonlighting as a driver for seniors. When she stops by a museum to hand deliver a work sample, the curator (Tracy Wright) urges her to mail it in instead or it'll get lost. Perhaps in a desperate attempt to salvage his marriage, shoe salesman Richard (John Hawkes) goes outside the house and sets his hand on fire. Internet chat, WYSIWYG doodles and a coprophiliac fixation help Richard's children Peter (Miles Thompson) and Robby (Brandon Ratcliff) cope with their broken family. Teenage nymphomaniacs Rebecca (Natasha Slayon) and Pam (JoNell Kennedy) test their appeal on Richard's coworker Andrew (Brad Henke), so he cautiously responds with illicit fantasies written on large signs affixed to his window for the girls to read. Sixth-grader Silvie (Carlie Westerman) collects linens and small appliances in a hope chest to be her dowry.

Acting out her id, Christine's romantic pursuit of Richard borders on stalking. Intentional or not, the film's undercurrent advocacy of underage sexuality is also troubling. But those perceived controversies are beside the point. As characters reach their goals, mourn their losses or simply continue spinning an already-invented wheel, July's refreshingly offbeat and peculiarly hilarious film ascends to astonishing poignancy. When Christine's client Michael (Hector Elias) is bereaved of his nursing-home sweetheart Ellen (Ellen Geer), the film's message becomes crystal clear: You can indeed make your dreams come true, just don't wait until it's too late.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.