Let’s get it out of the way right up front: Me and You and Everyone We Know has offended some people, primarily because it deals in part with adolescent sexuality — and it features a subplot involving an 8-year-old in an online chatroom. Frankly, I found these things handled rather tastefully and, yes, realistically, but others have not. I have some problems of my own with the film, but these are not among them.
The movie is the writing-directing-acting debut of performance artist Miranda July (originally Miranda Grossinger), who plays Christine Jesperson, a (surprise) performance artist. Performance art is, generally speaking, not my dish of Lapsang Souchong. I tend to find it rather self-consciously artsy and something that’s often more interesting to think about than to actually witness. For example, I’m perfectly content to just imagine, without seeing it, 1980s performance artist Karen Finley’s piece in which she inserted yams into herself. (Besides, not seeing it leaves me free to wonder about whether the yams were cooked, and other side issues of note.)
Worry not, nothing so outre occurs here. July isn’t the first performance artist to turn her attention to film, of course. Yoko Ono did that years ago — resulting in movies that were, once again, more interesting to think about than to actually watch. July’s film may also qualify on that score, but it’s considerably less abstract than Ono’s work. It may meander and never really go much of anywhere (though it could be argued that Me and You goes to the beginning of a story); still, it confines itself, however quirkily, to the basic dictates of narrative film. It’s awkward — just like its heroine — and that’s part of its subtle charm.
There’s not much plot, though there is an abundance of strangely connected incidents. Christine is trying to sell her video performance art to a gallery, but her day job of driving a taxi (specializing in an elderly clientele) takes her to the shoe department in a store where she sees shoe salesman Richard (John Hawkes, Identity). Richard has his own set of problems: trying to recover from his failed marriage, dealing with his distant children and recovering from a badly burned hand. This last situation is the result of a magic trick (in more than one sense, because he vainly hopes it will somehow fix things with his family) that didn’t come off as planned.
The central thrust of the story is whether Christine and Richard will get together, and whether she will sell her art. The second is actually tied to the first, because her success will finally hinge on her not working alone, as she insists she always does. The film takes its time and wanders off on tangents, yes, but it’s never slow and usually charming and strangely realistic.
Somewhat less charming is the inescapable sense that Me and You is trying so very, very hard to be everything an independent film “ought” to be. In other words, it’s aiming to be too much like other indies, thereby following a pattern that has quickly become as threadbare as the most formulaic, lowest-common-denominator Hollywood junk. I defy anyone familiar with Terry Zwigoff’s overrated Ghost World not to see the connections between that film’s sexually precocious teenage girls and the ones in this. Moreover, the ending of July’s film almost certainly draws on that of Ghost World.
However, July’s film has a sweetness of spirit, a feeling of sincerity and — best of all — a hopefulness that is utterly foreign to the facile nihilism of Zwigoff’s movie. The ending of Ghost World feels contrived and coated in an art-house fondness for the downbeat for its own sake. The ending of Me and You, on the other hand, is one of the most perfect I’ve seen in long time — suggesting a future and the birth of a new myth out of an old misconception. Without giving anything away, I can say to take note of the ending’s being grounded in something heretofore missed, because the character who experiences the ending was usually asleep at the time it occurs.
And that, I suspect, is the real point July is driving at — that her characters might finally awake.
A word of caution: There’s a very good chance that Me and You and Everyone We Know won’t be around long, so go see it today or tomorrow. Rated R for disturbing sexual content involving children, and for language.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke