Performance artist-turned-filmmaker Miranda July's magical postmodernism is apparently meant to carry its audience away on a cloud of pixie dust as we wake up to the marvel of life as seen through the filmmaker's eyes.
It must have worked on someone. Me and You and Everyone We Know has pulled in awards at the Cannes Film Festival and Sundance and has become something of a critics' darling for its unlikely marriage of sordidness and Donnie Darko-style sketchy metaphysics.
A defining example is the American Beauty-esque spiritual moment. Only instead of a plastic bag carried poetically on the wind, two characters observe with horror the goldfish that has been left on a car roof. They pray, with the enthusiasm of preschoolers, for its tiny little soul before it splatters on the asphalt.
There are innumerable spit bubbles of self-conscious whimsy in the film, but Me and You and Everyone We Know's chief "adorable" flight of fancy is a fairly routine romance in which quirky Christine (played by July) seduces/stalks newly separated shoe salesman Richard (John Hawkes).
Their courtship, such as it is, unfolds within a clump of mid-century apartments and tiny cottages populated by camera-friendly eccentrics.
There is the little girl who saves her allowance to buy blenders and hand towels to stock her hope chest, which becomes one of the goofier symbols of eccentricity.
Also prowling the neighborhood are a pair of teenage girls engaged in a game of sexual one-upmanship with a crude neighbor in a feel-good spin-off of Todd Solondz sexual shock.
Much of Me and You reads like individual, amusing vignettes and observations July has collected over time and knit into a cozy, sloppy homemade afghan built for two.
With his disheveled hair and perpetually stunned expression, Richard is a spazzy Adam to Christine's Eve. Though he has two young sons, he has somehow held onto his adolescent mopiness and eccentricity despite parenthood. To "commemorate" his divorce, at one point Richard sets his hand on fire as the bewildered boys look on. Like much in July-ville, what would be regarded as abusive in our world becomes enchanted and poetic, an act of rebellion against stultifying reality.
July manages to inject her labored cuteness into the oddest places. She finds comedy in Richard's 6-year-old son instant messaging with a horndog online pervert. Equally wry is Richard's teenage son's school fire drill where students are coached on how to respond to the Columbine-scenario of a fellow student with a hand grenade.
Such questionable sources of yuks are part of July's larger desire to render the screwy, beautiful epiphanies of childhood consciousness: the sense of weirdness and discovery that artists also try to tap into.
To her credit, there are rare moments in July's navel-gazing Charm Pop when she truly gets down on a kid's level to remember the obsessiveness and wonder of being a kid. But mostly the child actors feel like mouthpieces for July's clever dialogue. They never quite own the goofy little moments of beauty July gives them. July seems less interested in children than in expressing her own childlike view of the world.
Me and You and Everyone We Know's most original feature is probably the way it subverts the lovelorn, hangdog heroes of films like Punch Drunk Love, Garden State and Sideways. This time it's a woman playing the love-hungry spaz. Depending upon how anxious film-goers are to see the usual indie goofus re-envisioned as a woman, it may seem revolutionary or just a feeble spin on old material.
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