With "Me and You and Everyone We Know," which premiered last January at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, Miranda July introduces herself as a promising new writer-director worth keeping a close eye on. With experience, she could well become a major talent in the indie film arena. Unfortunately, the sparks of brilliance littered throughout her debut feature are just thatsparks. Surrounding its deeply felt moments of truth and quiet beauty, "Me and You and Everyone We Know" gets bogged down in an unfocused, often contrived array of characters and loose narratives all vying for further exploration than the 90-minute running time will allow.
At the onset, the film seems to be setting itself up as an unlikely, decidedly twisted romance between struggling performance artist/cab driver for the eldery Christine Jesperson (Miranda July, doing triple duty) and recently separated shoe seller Richard Swersey (John Hawkes), still healing from lighting his hand on fire in an irrational moment of stress. They are an awkward, possibly perfect match for each other, but their initial fleeting moments of connection come to an abrupt end when Richard fails to contact Christine. While she makes an umpteenth attempt to get her digital performance work noticed at a local gallery, Richard is left to readjust to a new life and a new cramped apartment as he tries to get through to his two children, 14-year-old Peter (Miles Thompson) and 6-year-old Robby (Brandon Ratcliff), both giving him the silent treatment over his separation with their mother, Pam (JoNell Kennedy). Other people living in their suburban neighborhood come in and out of the forefront, including two sexually curious teenage friends, Heather (Natasha Slayton) and Rebecca (Najarra Townsend), who find themselves flirting with a much older, aspiringly perverted neighbor, and 10-year-old Sylvie (Carlie Westerman), obsessed with collecting a dowry of home furnishings and appliances to one day be able to give to her husband and children. Meanwhile, the very young Robby begins an online relationship with a fetishistic grown woman.
As the title infers, if "Me and You and Everyone We Know" is intended to be a varied glimpse into our own secret lives and desires, then filmmaker Miranda July has confused reality with showy sexual flagrance. The film is rife with controversial material, and if it is not explicit physically, it very much is from a suggestive point of view. July is fairly tasteful and even sweetly innocent in her handling of these hot-button topics, such as kindergartner Robby's raunchy Internet flirting with a stranger, and Peter's first experience with oral sex via the equally virginal Heather and Rebecca. Furthermore, July comes up with occasionally great scenes, so masterfully written and tonally perfect, mixing unforced poignancy with very funny dark comedy, that it is a shame they don't come more often. An early scene, one of the best in the film, finds Christine and an elderly client of her cab service trying to figure out a way to save a bagged goldfish forgotten about and laying atop a moving van. It has nothing really to do with anything else in the movie, and yet it finds just the right existential, humane note that it could make a wonderful short film by itself.
Each of the characters, in fact, have at least one notably effective slice-of-life moment, whether it be dramatic or humorous, and yet none of them are given more than two dimensions. They seemingly live in a bubble contained within Miranda July's ambitious but uneven screenplay. Few of them have lives outside of their individual stories, few of them have histories and family lives, and when it is all over, only one or two have had any detectable character arc. It doesn't help that, after the initial shock value of the film's content, the movie goes virtually nowhere with the story strands, most of which are increasingly implausible. The one really promising relationshipthat between the lovably insecure but vague Christine and the disturbed and rejected Richarddisappears for such long stretches of time that when it is time to wrap things up, their chemistry has faded to that of a candle nearly flickered out. They simply don't have the time afforded to them to build a meaningful connection; in fact, it's unclear throughout why Christine is so attracted to him and why she is so needy in general.
The small moments of warm and candid human nature in "Me and You and Everyone We Know," and unequivocally strong performances from the whole cast, particularly the soulful July (a dead-ringer for Rachel Griffiths), almost make the rough patches worth wading through, but not quite. With the ending comes extreme disappointment. All of the pieces seemed to be there, and yet they don't fit into a cohesive and meaningful whole like director Miranda July intends. For a similar, more cogent look at the dark undercurrents of suburban life, 1999's quintessential "American Beauty
" and 2003's exquisite "The Safety of Objects
" are much sharper and emphatic. In comparison to those or not, "Me and You and Everyone We Know" finally becomes just too cluttered and the characters too cinematically quirky by a half to be believed. The film plays like a rough cut on its way to greatness, but in dire need of rewrites and re-shoots that, regrettably, never come.