Saturday, 14 June 2014

Review of Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

Me and You and Everyone We Know begins with a sense of unease as the male lead, Richard, played by John Hawkes, is collecting his belongings as he separates from his wife, and then goes outside, douses his hand in lighter fluid, and sets it on fire. Played in slow-motion, the scene is an interesting one to start the story with. It sets up the character of Richard very effectively, and the central image is a Lynchian one.

This sense of unease is maintained throughout the film, yet whereas in the beginning we are not aware of director/writer/star Miranda July’s intentions, as we go on the film develops and we come away feeling not so much uneasy as icky. I’m no philistine, and there is a place for controversial themes like the burgeoning sexuality of a child (Todd Solondz’s masterful “Happiness” did that along with a paedophile plot strand), but in this film… I don’t know. The scene where a young child of six sexts on a message forum around the topic of scat-play… I wasn’t feeling it.

It doesn’t help how July chooses to make the film. She plays a digital media artist called Christine, and the film at times resembles the odd visual experiments she makes. There’s a curiously infectious electro-synthy soundtrack, which I liked, and her shot composition is clearly very “arty”, but the overall sense of whimsy I found to be ill-fitting. There’s another scene where two young (14-16) year old girls talk to an older man, who is clearly attracted to them but states, plainly, that he doesn’t believe their claims of being eighteen. Nevertheless, he writes lewd messages on his window for them to read, including one which insinuates he’d like to be fellated by one of the girls more than the other. A little insulted, they go to Richard’s son, and take it in turns to fellate him, to try and prove who is truly the best. If reading that has made you as uncomfortable as it was for me typing it, then you get my point.

Perhaps I’m being unfair. There is more to the film than this, and it is, at heart, a study of paternal anomie and a love story, and most of it concerns Richard’s attempts at juggling being a divorcee, good father and career man (he isn’t very successful at any of them). He’s a shoe salesman, and his character is probably my favourite aspect of the film, or at least the only good one. He’s clearly burdened with self-loathing, and Hawkes genuinely seems to understand his inner machinations.

July’s character I found less convincing, which is odd, given her credits in the film. She falls in love with Richard pretty quickly, and when you watch the film, her motivations seem to come from nowhere abruptly. Her behaviour seems too calculatedly “quirky”, such as when she walks into Richard’s work and starts wearing socks on her head. And she embodies the worst of something that every character in this film is guilty of; vanity, and selfishness. Some of the dialogue between her Richard is choice as well (“you think you deserve that pain but you don’t”, referring to a blister), and their relationship seems irritating and facile.

It doesn’t amount to much. I’m normally very open to films like this, and I adore a close observational style with flawed characters who are nevertheless real. It’s what I go to the cinema for, in fact. And whilst there’s no denying that the film has its moments (two or three), these aren’t enough to salvage it from being a weird, unlikeabless mess. It really does come out the other end. It’s an affectless, dull work which left me feeling crawly at the end, and not in a good way. 

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