"Me and You" explores charm of the unexpected
Expect the unexpected from Miranda July's award-winning debut film, "Me and You and Everyone We Know," showing Saturday, Jan. 14 at 7:30 pm at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven. Presented by the Silver Screen Society, this charming romantic comedy defies narrative conventions and still manages to remain coherent, appealing, and compelling.
Like the current Noah Baumbach film, "The Squid and the Whale," "Me and You" takes as its initial premise a marriage breaking up with traumatic fallout for the kids involved. John's two sons, Peter (Miles Thompson) and Robbie (Brandon Ratcliff), play a central role in the film. They spend half the time with their father and half with their mother (JoNell Kennedy). This Solomonic arrangement seems to cause as much misery and dislocation in their lives as equity or security.
The film, which won prizes at the 2005 Sundance and Cannes Festivals, follows the romantic progress of a young artist/taxi driver, Christina (Miranda July), and a newly separated shoe salesman, Richard (John Hawkes). The two keep bouncing off each other until the sparks finally ignite genuine affection.
Peter and Robbie are shell-shocked by their parents' separation, and like their dad, they bounce off the people they come in contact with as if normal interactions aren't possible any longer. "Me and You" parts company with "The Squid and the Whale" in its more positive portrait of fatherhood and its sunnier worldview. July uses music, color, and lighting to reinforce her film's optimistic outlook, even in scenes that convey genuine anguish. As his marriage is dissolving, Richard sets his hand on fire, but this horrifying act manages to register more as a personal statement than a sign of self-destructiveness.
The director also places this fractured family into a larger community of characters. Sylvie (Carlie Westerman), the little girl who lives next door to Richard's new apartment, already has a hope chest complete with the towel set she hopes to share with her future husband and daughter. Heather (Natasha Slayton) and Rebecca (Najarra Townsend) are two young teens eager to explore the rites of adolescent sex with their classmate Peter or, even, putatively, with Richard's adult colleague Andrew (Brad William Henke), who leaves obscene messages for them on his window.
One of July's multiple themes involves her own character Christina's pursuit of artistic success. The director obviously sees parallels in current artistic challenges and those of 21st-Century relationships. Yet another thread is the relationship that develops between Christina and Michael (Hector Elias), Christina's confidante in her pursuit of a liaison with Richard. Michael, whom she ferries about in her day job as an Elder Cab driver, encourages Christina's artistic ambitions as well as commiserating with her romantic travails.
The director brings the movie's disparate characters together through the slightly skewed way they go through the world in search of happiness. Collectively they inhabit a universe where computers, cell phones, camcorders and TV sets impede human contact as much as they facilitate it. In one notable case, six-year-old Robbie pursues a hilariously disturbing e-mail relationship with an adult correspondent looking for Internet sex. The resulting clash of innocence and lewdness makes for a comedic tour de force.
"Me and You" maintains just enough narrative logic to keep the audience intrigued, and its kooky characters, so well invested with good acting, are keepers. Let's hope for sequels.
"Me and You and Everyone We Know," Saturday, Jan. 14, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Spring Street, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $6 or $4 for Silver Screen Society members. Doors open at 7 pm.
Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to The Times.