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Friday, April 7, 2006
Girl at the (cutting) edge
By KAORI SHOJI
"Me and You and Everyone We Know" is an exercise in subdued radicality: writer/director Miranda July delivers some incredible scenes involving sex between minors, self-inflicted violence, an unsupervised 7-year-old assuaging the sexual frustrations of an adult woman online. But the whole thing is delicately and sincerely executed so that taking offense doesn't come into it.
"When I was writing the screenplay," says July, "I managed to stay in the nonjudgmental process, which I think is important when dealing with this kind of material. I looked at the world around me and I wanted to write about it in an honest way. . . . I felt I was doing this with a lot of love and that in the end, people would take it the right way." And they did: "Me and You" originated during her time at Sundance's Screenwriting Laboratory (created for the benefit of newcomer filmmakers looking to hone their craft) and now many are calling her the next Sophia Coppola.
Indeed, the 32-year-old July has the appearance of someone who just walked off the set of "Virgin Suicides," a seeming incarnation of all that is agonized and fragile in a young woman.
Is there a lot of you in Christine, the striving artist she plays in this movie?
Oh yes [laughs]. Christine is excruciatingly like me in my 20s. In fact, there were parts that made me positively embarrassed. You know, back then you're always trying to get people to like your work and trying to explain why they should like it, but there's a hopefulness to Christine that I share. And I think that hopefulness is the mainstay of the movie.
Before this film, you were primarily known as a performance artist.
Yes, but I had been making short films throughout my 20s so I knew what to expect. It wasn't a big mysterious process or anything. But I never went to film school. I grew up in Berkeley and I went to college for two years before dropping out because I realized that I was just using college to put on my performance acts. In high school, I rented a local club and hired a bunch of 30-year-olds to act in a play I had written out of the blue. I guess that's what got me started. I had always been performing in front of an audience and trying to express myself and this time, I did the same with a feature-length film.
There's a lot of material in this movie that's risque. Did you have a lot of trouble over funding and convincing the producers?
Not as much as I thought. Although the scene where the two girls going over to their classmate's house to give him a blow job . . . that was a scene at which the IFC [Independent Film Channel] guy in charge of financing, balked. So I flew to N.Y. to explain things and it turned out that the guy had three teenage sons and I understood how that scene may be painful. And we talked about how hard it is to be a teenage boy. In the end, the man and I understood each other and the scene remained.
The girls in this movie are never the victims, but the boys have a lot of anguish.
Yes, I think that's how it is in real life. A girl can be many things, she can be anything and she has the power to constantly reinvent herself. But a boy has a lot less freedom and in many ways he's so much more vulnerable.
And yet it's very much a man's world out there, especially the film industry.
Oh, yes! It turned out that the year this movie came out was the year in which I was practically the only new female filmmaker to appear on the American film circuit. So I was constantly walking into rooms full of men and constantly having to explain myself to committees that were almost exclusively male. And the atmosphere was sexist, no doubt about it, but there was no one incident I can put a finger on. You know, it's strange because an undergrad film class in college is full of girls. But they never stay -- there are almost no women in graduate film courses. They all quit and go on to be something else.
What was your worst fear when working on the film?
The sheer physical exertion of being on a set and being behind the camera and trying to remember everything at once at the end of the day, I was really afraid of passing out or something. But then I had the great chance of working with kids. Kids are amazing. Not only are they are a constant reminder that life itself is wonderful, they put everything in perspective. Like we'd be running around, so stressed and saying that we only have two minutes to shoot this scene. And then 8-year-old Brandon [who plays Robby] would pop up loud and clear with a question about dinosaurs. Isn't that amazing?
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