and You and Everyone We Know
There are many fascinating movies doing the rounds of international film festivals that never come slightly close to achieving an arthouse release in Australia. Some are highly political, others are highly esoteric, and there are some special films that seem that like meteorites shooting beyond all known conventions and genres.
Surveying this vast and wondrous cinematic landscape, and then evaluating the piddling amount of it that is transported into commercial theatres, one condition seems to apply. If you can make a film with cute, eccentric, lonely characters looking for love, it will be instantly deemed more appealing and accessible than something that is artistically ambitious.
Me and You and Everyone We Know is the latest American "indie" film to benefit from this condition. In its life on the global circuit, it rapidly became a wildly overrated piece. Perhaps, in another time and context, it could be appreciated for the modest, quirky relationships-comedy it truly is – something in the order of television's Arrested Development. But the hype surrounding its release invites a harsher conclusion.
It is something of a vanity project for writer-director Miranda July, a performance and video artist who gives her own work (or some zany approximation of it) a large chunk of the plot. However, Christine (July) longs not just for a career break in the art world but a soul mate, and in that direction she fixes on Richard (John Hawkes), a troubled, rumpled case-study who works at a shoe store.
Like every second indie film these days, Me and You has multiple characters heading off in different, sometimes overlapping plot strands. Two girls, Heather (Natasha Slayon) and Rebecca (Najarra Townsend), anxious about their teen status and hungry for sexual experience, goad a frustrated dreamer, Andrew (Brad Henke), and practise techniques on Richard's elder son, Peter (Miles Thompson).
The most intriguing of these strands, involving the rather candid internet chat between Richard's other, younger son, Robby (Brandon Ratcliff), and an enigmatic correspondent, almost certainly earned the film its overly harsh censorship rating.
The predictable theme of proceedings is summed up by Nancy (Tracy Wright), a cold-as-ice gallery director (and one of the more enjoyable elements of the film): in the age of AIDS and violence, people can only connect indirectly, in an alienated fashion. But, like much performance art in the Laurie Anderson lineage, July alternates between the blindingly obvious (all the lonely people, where do they all come from?) and the cryptically banal (the characters are prone to strange, indecipherable epiphanies as they walk the bleak streets).
Me and You has been hailed as a "true original". In fact, it would be hard to think of a more derivative film. It is a mish-mash of all those American movies of the past few years that mix neurotic comedy with a sometimes facile dose of undergraduate philosophising, from the collected works of Todd Solondz and Wes Anderson to I Huckabees (2004) and Punch-Drunk Love (2002).
July seems especially indebted to the insufferable Solondz for the ugly, flat, inert visual style she employs. In a tactic that has been done to death since the '70s, a certain kind of image (static, composed in block shapes, evenly lit, garishly coloured) is meant to express both the supposed dreariness of the suburban experience and the ersatz mass culture of television. Here, the vapid style matches vapid ideas.
Me and You and Everyone We Know has its cute and likeable moments. But it is as far from being a satisfying movie as most art-to-film efforts by the likes of Robert Longo (Johnny Mnemonic, 1995), Cindy Sherman (Office Killer, 1997) or Matthew Barney (The Cremaster Cycle).
© Adrian Martin October 2005