Me And You And Everyone We Know (DVD)

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Me And You And Everyone We Know (DVD)

Performance artist Miranda July's debut feature film, ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, is a charming, quirky romantic comedy that is entertaining from...

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Review of "Me And You And Everyone We Know (DVD)"

published 25/08/2010 | Templar19
Member since : 08/03/2009
Reviews : 52
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Super
Pro Sharp script, superb performances, funny and poignant.
Cons Its low-budget obscurity might put people off.
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"'Just Say Macaroni'"

As mainstream films get more and more expensive to produce and promote, it’s heartening when a film comes along now and again that manages to be funny, poignant and affecting for about one/hundredth the cost of… well, virtually every funny, poignant and affecting studio release. I’m thinking, of course, of this unassuming American independent from 2005, ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know’. I watched it again the other evening in order to refresh my memory, and when it was finished I simply splashed some more cheap supermarket red into my hero-sized wine goblet, cranked back the DVD and watched it again. It was that good.

Independent films are a mixed bunch, of course. Just as many of us have been duped into thinking that only mega-releases boasting budgets of nine figures can be in any way entertaining, so the more worthy of independent filmmakers can be guilty of a kind of inverted snobbery by insinuating that any kind of significant budget will inevitably corrupt an ‘original’ vision and that, anyway, indie films are not there to entertain but to simply give artsy folk something to talk to other artsy folk about. Plebs, avert your uncomprehending gaze. Happily, we have here a film with neither platinum trim nor snooty, masochistic pretensions. It’s just a perfectly wrought and perfectly performed delight.

‘Me and You and Everyone We Know’ is a subtly dry tale of interconnected lives in Nowheresville, USA, lives diverse and varied but which share two common traits: insecurity and confusion. All the characters on show are linked in some way to the two main protagonists, and as the film unfolds, their mutually shared neuroses slowly reveal and heal themselves in humorous, moving and, ultimately, surprising ways.

Richard Swersey (John Hawkes) is a recently separated father of two who, when not working all hours in a shoe store, spends his time trying in vain to connect with his young sons, Peter and Robby (Miles Thompson and Brandon Ratcliff respectively), with whom he shares a seedy low-rent apartment. Swersey is an unhappy and confused man who is regarded with disdain by his soon-to-be-ex wife and has taken to self-harming in a deluded attempt to impress her and their sons. They just think he’s nuts.

Life has not been kind to Richard Swersey, so when ditsy performance artist and part-time driver of old folk Christine Jesperson (Miranda July) suddenly enters his life one day when she’s in the store with one of her charges, he reacts negatively and aggressively to her cheery well-meaning approaches. He’s spooked by her interest and she’s hurt and humiliated by his reaction. But she doesn’t give up, and as the film progresses, the unlikely two are slowly drawn together by a growing realization that in each other they not only see a reassuring reflection of their own insecurities but also a potential means of overcoming them. Around them too, the other characters play out their own little dramas, influencing and being influenced, suffering and supporting. It’s all beautifully done.

Writer, director and leading lady Miranda July sports impeccable ‘Liberal’ credentials – born in leafy Vermont, both parents writers, grew up in ‘right-on’ Berkeley CA, regular contributor to the New Yorker – and we might be fearful that such cosy advantage would have left this, her first and as yet only full feature (new one seemingly on the way), smelling faintly of plastic roses; the smug worthy’s attempt, perhaps, to pat the downtrodden on the back: ‘Well done little people. How brave you are. More bean curd anyone?’ But not a bit of it. The script is sympathetic without being patronizing, witty without being overly quirky and, above all, moving without being sentimental. Ms July’s performance too is nicely understated: Christine Jesperson is funny, vulnerable and hugely endearing.

That said, we may wonder why such a character would be so interested in a crumpled, down-at-heel (no pun intended) shoe salesman like Richard Swersey. Actually she isn’t, not at first. She’s more interested in convincing him that their initial misunderstanding - when she cheerily and unthinkingly got into his car unbidden after the pair had enjoyed a brief, jokey conversation while walking down the street together, only to be told to get out by a startled Swersey – was just that, a misunderstanding, and she meant no harm by it. It’s her neurotic compulsion to set the record straight that keeps bringing her back, again and again, a compulsion both comical and touching. Only as the film develops does her lust for approval slowly give way to something more fulfilling.

I’d only ever seen John Hawkes once before – he was a member of George Clooney’s fishing-boat crew in ‘A Perfect Storm’ – so I had few if any notions about him, pro or con. Superficially his character comes across as a hard-boiled and damaged reject from the American Dream, an ‘Average Joe’ wrung dry by futile attempts to live the life expected of him. Yet he’s oddly compelling and attractive. As much as he tries to loudly dismiss the seeming indifference shown to him by his sons, he keeps returning to face it down, armed with muddled but heart-felt justifications for his actions, much like the way Christine Jesperson keeps returning to him, armed in the same way. The steady untangling of their shared confusions is the nub of this film and Hawkes’s performance is utterly convincing throughout, if only because his pain is so real and so recognizable.

It’s somewhat unusual for American films to give us performances by children that are not of the squeakily-sweet, ‘I love you Mommie’ variety, but here the youngsters - two children and three teens, to be precise - all shine. The two Swersey boys, Peter (14) and Robby (7), are an odd pair, but each endearing in his own particular way, especially the permanently perplexed and wonderfully laconic younger of the two, Robbie, whose secret uncomprehending contributions to a sex chat-room accessed by his brother leads to his being an unwitting means of redemption for someone rather surprising. It’s with Peter’s interactions with two neighbourhood teenage girls, however, that this film strays into the realms of minor controversy.

Heather (Natasha Slayton) and Rebecca (Najarra Townsend) are teens of the gum-chewing, ‘Am I bothered?’ variety who’ve decided it’s high time they lost their virginity, and to that end they’ve planned meticulously. They will begin with a practice run with Peter Swersey, and then they’ll approach a lonely overweight work colleague of John Hawkes, Andrew (Brad William Henke), with whom they’ve flirted, to do the deed proper. Naturally the latter runs a mile, and so do the girls, but it’s the mere suggestion of improper liaisons that got a few reactionary souls a little hot under the collar.

That the above scenario might have little to do with sex at all seems to be a possibility the film’s critics failed to consider. It’s actually about face, and the terror many teens have of losing it, or being seen to lose it, in front of their friends. Heather and Rebecca are the best of friends and also the bitterest of rivals. Their snotty interplay of calculating one-upmanship is priceless and their characters are beautifully realized. In their scene with Peter Swersey (the scene of controversy, in which oral sex is implied but not seen), it’s not the act itself that concerns them but rather the terrifying possibility of not being as ‘good’ at it as their friend and rival. Quite what being good at it entails is beyond them. This is all about the teenage condition, about the private angst that lies behind the public bravado, about the fear of falling behind in the race to ‘grow up’, and unless the viewer has miraculously managed to bypass their teenage years completely, they will smile with recognition at the pain and confusion of it all.

Stylistically, this film is surprisingly mainstream, and that’s fine by me. It’s a character-based work, after all, that is neatly framed by a spare and maudlin soundtrack. There are a few surreal visual gags that quietly register on the edge of consciousness, but there’s nothing that caters exclusively to the art house crowd: no talking dogs; no ‘clever’ play on names; no allusions to obscure transgendered Hungarian poets; in fact there are a couple of wickedly funny digs at the drivel-spouting patrons of conceptual art in the scenes where Christine tries to get the snooty head of the local contemporary arts center to view her work. No artsy pyrotechnics then, but close-ups of faces do abound, and on reflection I think this is a neat device. So often with films, we don’t really ‘see’ the characters because we have no need to really look at them; we just watch them move and listen to them talk. Here we can’t help but be fascinated by the expressions of the characters because they fill the screen, and add so much to the power and significance of the snappy dialogue. This might just be down to the keen overindulgence of a visual artist let loose with a posh digital camera, but who the hell cares? It all works perfectly.

That said, ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know’ is fatally hamstrung by dint of its being what it is: a low-budget American independent. However, what it really is is a witty, subtle and poignant take on the absurd vagaries of the human condition, so don’t be put off by the likelihood that most of the DVD copies of this film are sitting unwatched on the most fashionable of IKEA shelves in the most fashionable of converted industrial spaces. If money is wasted on the rich, then art is surely wasted on the stupid. Sadly, that’s not really true. It just sounded good when I said it to myself! Perhaps that’s conceptual art in a nutshell. Perhaps, deep down, we’re all pretentious dunderheads, and potential conceptual artists. If so, great. Then we can watch this fantastic little film without a twinge of self-consciousness or a feeling that Adam Sandler is missing us. He isn’t. He’ll still be there when we get back, and he’s rich enough anyway. This is an excellent film, one of the best I’ve seen in a while simply because for once I really felt for the characters rather than just identified with them. I won’t give it five stars because it’s undoubtedly of limited appeal, but I’ll certainly give it four because it does exactly what it sets out to do, and so beautifully. This sparkling little 88-minute gem is highly recommended.

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Comments on this review

  • noodlebutty published 07/11/2010
    Interesting and entertaining review
  • MizzMolko published 21/09/2010
    A top review : ) Eleanor x
  • jonathanb published 14/09/2010
    I hadn't heard of this but like the sound of it. Films that are unusual, intelligent and entertaining without being pretentious are hard to come by.
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Performance artist Miranda July's debut feature film, ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, is a charming, quirky romantic comedy that is entertaining from start to finish. Writer-director July stars as Christine, an offbeat performance artist who becomes instantly smitten with Richard (John Hawkes), a brooding department-store shoe salesman who is having trouble dealing with his divorce and his separation from his two kids the shy, private Peter (Miles Thompson) and the very funny Robby (Brandon Ratcliff). Christine is trying to get her latest work accepted at a major museum, but first she has to get through mean-spirited Nancy (Tracy Wright), who is not necessarily very interested in her submission. Meanwhile, Natasha Slayton and Najarra Townsend are a riot as a pair of teenagers who think they're ready for sex as they tease neighbourhood pervert Andrew (Brad Henke) and consider experimenting with Peter. Amid all the tender, comedic, well-acted, and well-written scenes, Ratcliff nearly steals the film as Robby gets involved in a dirty, hysterical online chat with a mystery person. July's marvellous, surprising movie won the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival in addition to well-deserved prizes at the Philadelphia and San Francisco International Film Festivals.

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