Don’t let Miranda July’s background as a performance artist scare you away from her first feature, the offbeat, totally winning Me and You and Everyone We Know. July, who also stars in the film, combines a twisted indie sensibility with honesty and warmth, creating a movie of surprising accessibility. As the ‘independent’ genre becomes increasingly forced, Miranda July’s greatest accomplishment is that this all feels so effortless.
Making up the odd little microcosm of Me and You (recently chosen for competition at Cannes) are characters ranging in size, color, age and desires. Christine (July), a woman who chauffeurs the elderly around in her car, longs for two things: her own art installation and the affections of a scruffy shoe salesman named Richard (John Hawkes, of HBO’s Deadwood). Richard is nursing a broken heart and a bit of self-flagellation since separating with his wife and moving his mixed race sons (Miles Thompson and amazing six-year-old Brandon Ratcliff) into a tiny apartment.
It’s a little surprising that the boys enjoy posing as adult fetish freaks in chat rooms, without either cracking a smile. And that cute little Sylvie from next door (Carlie Westerman) dreams of her perfect fantasy life as a wife and mother — and finds a neighbor with whom she can share her secret aspirations.
July treats her cast of characters with the utmost respect, realizing the capabilities of each and never cheating their limits by having them do something needlessly unexpected. The care she feels for her creations is apparent, and not once are we asked to suspend too much disbelief in their actions.
With all of its curious dialogue and odd scenarios, Me and You gives you the vague feeling that the slightest movement might unhinge someone and lead to something terrible. But this isn’t some P.T. Anderson epic (such as Magnolia) where the gods take over. There is tension and curiosity, but the characters’ good intentions guide the narrative and help a beautiful hopeful tone to emerge.
As an actress, Miranda July is bold and endearing; as a filmmaker, she has a firm sense of timing and flow; her real strength, though, is as a writer. Her setups could easily be short story workshop moments, but solid character development and shockingly funny dialogue create something bigger. Something with equal parts tension, awkwardness and heart. Sort of like Todd Solondz minus the anger and resentment.
Don’t assume that there isn’t a good dose of squirming involved — there is. But there’s a good nature that shines through even in the most uncomfortable situation. July usually lets us off the hook with a hearty laugh and a sigh of relief.
Often times, the results of an indie effort can come off as wannabe cool and all too temporary. So few filmmakers – and films – let their inner indie emerge while producing something meaningful for many. Me and You and Everyone We Know can take its place next to Sex, Lies and Videotape as that rare first-time gem that does everything remarkably well.
The DVD includes only deleted scenes in the way of extras.
Reviewed at the 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston.