Miranda July's directing debut, "Me and You and Everyone We Know" is a film in which the passage of time is celebrated, not so much for its substance or resolution, but for the journey on which it takes us over the course of our lives.
July previously wrote the script for "Center of the World," a Wayne Wang film in which she showed her unique approach to characterization and storyline. Sadly, the combination of Wang and July was an unsatisfying one as their approaches to film are starkly different.
July was a performance artist and writer before becoming involved in the film industry, and has had several short films to her credit that have garnered her significant attention (and the likes of John C. Reilly in their casts). Filmmaker Magazine named July one of the 25 faces to watch in indie film in 2004, and her feature debut indicates they were right on the money with their observation.
"Me and You and Everyone We Know" captured the 2005 Critics Week Grand Prize at Cannes, along with that festival's Golden Camera and Prix Regards Jeune. It also captured a special Jury Prize for Original Vision at Sundance this year, along with multiple other indie prizes. Roger Ebert, perhaps, sums it up best when he says that "Me and You And Everyone We Know is a film that with quiet confidence creates a fragile magic. It's a comedy about falling in love when, for you, love requires someone who speaks your rare emotional language."
July's film is a stunning and unique film that captures masterfully and without histrionics or judgment the quiet search for connection and the essence of human nature.
The story centers around Richard (perfectly played by John Hawkes), a caucasian father we first meet as he and his long-term African-American companion are parting ways. The reason for the break-up is unclear and unimportant. It appears they have simply fallen out of love, and these scenes are not played dramatically or for effect...they simply are lived out. Richard is left with primary custody of his two sons, teen Peter (Miles Thompson) and six-year-old Robby (Brandon Ratcliffe). In a scene on the day they are to leave their home, Richard is attempting to share how much he loves them and sets his hand on fire (an act he had seen as a child). He has, however, confused the non-burning rubbing alcohol with the rapidly burning lighter fluid. It is a scene that is, at once, funny yet remarkably powerful as the camera lingers...it becomes clear that Richard does not at any point regret this act because the fact that he was communicating love remains.
There are so many utterly delightful and innocent scenes in this film that to share them all would be impossible and criminal. I wouldn't want to destroy your own filmgoing experience.
Yet, in many ways, July here accomplishes what the similarly minded Solondz is often unable to do. She achieves the balance of addressing challenging, often "offensive" situations with an appropriate respect, dignity and air of acceptance and innocence. One such example includes a scene involving two fourteen-year-old girls who begin innocently flirting with an obviously older, somewhat overweight male who is obviously isolated (and works with Richard as a shoe salesman) and socially insecure. July flirts with the idea that this man could, in fact be a pedophile, but more likely simply has no clue about basic social skills and so craves human attention that he responds in a way he believes these young girls want him to respond. Likewise, the girls, who harass the teen Peter become obsessed with oral sex and decide to practice on him and compare who is the best at it. Solondz (who is one of my favorite directors) often finds himself struggling to balance addressing these delicate issues without crossing a line...Here, July presents these teens at the point in their lives when they are aware of sexuality but haven't a clue what to do with it. The "oral sex" scene largely earned this film its "R" rating from the MPAA because of its "disturbing images of sexuality involving children," yet this scene is far from disturbing. It is real, honest, authentic and nearly perfectly played.
July herself performs here as Christine, a young, socially awkward performance artist who finds herself drawn to Richard in a quiet, playful yet very serious way. A particular scene of the two of them walking down the street and comparing the walk to their relationship journey is simple, funny and effective. July's performance is poignant and beautiful.
I can't fathom a fan of indie film not enjoying "Me and You and Everyone We Know." July's film is independent filmmaking to near, but not quite, perfection. The performances of Hawkes and July (who also wrote the script) resonate deeply, and the child actors here offer the finest young performances of the year. Along with the aforementioned sons, strong performances by youth include the two fourteen-year-old girls played by Natasha Slayton and Najarra Townsend and also Carlie Townsend, a young, lonely girl who collects things for her dowry. Quite simply, there are too many powerful, wonderful and captivating characters to fully mention.
"Me and You and Everyone We Know" loses a bit of favor due to Michael Andrews' somewhat repetitive score and a couple scenes that seem to drop a tad abruptly.
It's ending, in fact, is quite mundane and oddly timed yet it fits the atmosphere of the film rather well. It felt, though, like the journey wasn't quite finished...there were still things to learn about these characters, stories to be told and resolution to be obtained. Yet, July's film is about the journey and not the destination. To cleanly resolve these stories would have been pointless, as their journey is ongoing.
"Me and You and Everyone We Know" is, thus far, one of the best films of 2005 and a strong indicator of July's future at the forefront of independent filmmaking. It's a powerful, beautiful and often funny look at life as we truly live it in all its mundane moments and simple connections.
Ebert said it best when he called "Me and You and Everyone We Know" a film of "fragile magic." July's honesty, authenticity, humor and innocence work together to truly create a film of utter and complete "fragile magic."