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Friday, April 7, 2006

Tales of ordinary madness

Me and You and Everyone We Know

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)
Director: Miranda July
Running time: 90 minutes
Language: English
Opens April 8
[See Japan Times movie listings]

Ordinary people can still have extraordinary lives. This is a truism we tend to forget, until a work like "Me and You and Everyone We Know" dazzles us with the clarity of this simple message. It's not that "Me and You" (titled "Kimi to Boku" in Japan) tries to say anything so wearily familiar as "life is beautiful," but rather, it alerts us to the slightly bizarre and cock-eyed, the small explosions of surprise lurking beneath the placid (and yes, often beautiful) surface of everyday.

News photo
Miranda July in "Me and You and Everyone We Know"

The people here seem perfectly ordinary and at the same time intense; a wife gets ready to leave the house she had shared with her husband and two sons (the couple have agreed to separate) and doesn't bother to hide the smile on her face. When a mother tells her little daughter as they shop for shoes in a suburban mall, "You can go off on your own for half an hour," there's a vague menace in her tone that, upon closer inspection, matches the deadpan defiance of the daughter. A father and his child buy a goldfish in a plastic bag. He leaves the bag on the roof of his SUV to open the door, forgets all about it and drives off. Out on the six-lane freeway, the bag slides and falls off the roof: splat! The father remains oblivious.

Such are the moments that comprise "Me and You" and the overall result is one exquisitely poignant experience.

It's directed by performance artist/filmmaker Miranda July, and is her first feature film. It caused an immediate sensation in the U.S. indie scene, and from there it went on to Cannes to win the Camera d'Or. Not only did July write the screenplay, she also directed and starred in "Me and You" but there's nothing in it screams for your attention. The most risque scenes and dialogue are handled with low-temperature delicacy that belie the ribald contents.

In one scene, two high-school girls force themselves on a classmate and offer him a blow job to see which of them "can do it better." A sequence that could, at any minute, topple into sheer kinkiness or tragedy, becomes a little bit funny and a little bit sad. "Me and You" is defined by these small, spoon-size portions of emotion; nothing is in the slightest bit loud or exaggerated.

And taking center stage in this ensemble of quirkiness is July herself, though she does seems slightly uncomfortable in the middle of the frame. She plays Christine, a struggling video/performance artist who is too shy for self-promotion and so drives an "elderly cab" (which specializes in transporting elderly citizens) for a living.

One afternoon she takes a client to a mall shoe store and falls in love with the depressed shop clerk Richard (John Hawkes), who has just separated from his wife and is living with his two sons in a one-bedroom apartment. Richard is cranky and on-edge and cannot respond to Christine's tentative advances. In one instance he rudely tells her to get out of his car and refuses to look at her pained, stricken face. But then Richard deserves some sympathy: his 17-year-old son, Peter (Miles Thompson), ignores him, and his wide-eyed 7 year old, Robby (Brandon Ratcliff), spends all his time online, though Richard has yet to know his baby boy is exchanging electronic sexual quips with women who love his cutesy/kinky come-on lines (i.e., his constant references to "your poop and my poop").

Richard doesn't know either that his co-worker Andrew (Brad Henke) is actually a perverted creep who pastes incredibly offensive messages on his window for the benefit of two high-school girls Heather (Natasha Slayton) and Rebecca (Najarra Townsend) who read them with wild delight on their way to school. And next door to Richard's place lives 11-year-old Sylvie, whose sole passion in life is buying home appliances in preparation for the day when she will marry and become a housewife. Sylvie's solemn pursuit of her goal is a bane to Richard, who is now deeply mistrustful of all notions of marriage, security or love. And in the meantime Christine is always hovering on the periphery of his vision, terrified of being rejected, but unable to keep herself away.

In the end, "Me and You" is about the magic of connections between people, of that initial shock of it accompanied by delight and then fear for its fragility.

Christine is well aware of how rare and precious a connection can be (her video art is about couples expressing their love for each other) and Richard gradually begins to understand how much he has screwed-up his own relationships.

In July's lens, nothing is ordinary because everything is important. It's not about discovering the amazing in the mundane but facing the world with the knowledge that between the mundane and the amazing, there are no boundaries.

Read the interview:
"Miranda July"
Girl at the (cutting) edge

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