Last week, a professor lent me a book of short stories by an author named Miranda July, and I read a story called “Something That Needs Nothing.” It reads like a fever dream, an insight into a character whose actions I couldn’t connect with, yet I still felt some connection . Her disorientation in the modern world makes sense. In many ways, that feeling is exactly what I love about Louis C.K.’s show Louie. The pacing and content is offbeat and weird, but it makes sense, even when a homeless guy is giving himself a shower from his water bottle in the subway while a man in a suit masterfully plays the violin. I’ve never seen that in real life, and the juxtaposition is unusual, but it fits. With this all in mind, I learned that July is also an artist, writer, actress, and director. She wrote/starred in/directed a 2005 movie called Me and You and Everyone We Know, which the late Roger Ebert named the fifth best film of the 2000s. High praise! Let’s take a look at it, shall we?
Plot: Several characters go through their daily lives. Richard (John Hawkes, who was more recently in The Sessions) and his wife are separating, so he has to move into a new home with partial custody of his kids, Peter and Robby (Miles Thompson and Brandon Ratcliff, respectively). At his job, he meets Christine (July), an eccentric gal who goes between visual art and providing a cab service for the elderly. Subplots include Peter and Robby online chatting with a stranger; two teenage girls, Heather and Rebecca, flirting with a much older man; one of Christine’s clients, Michael, falling in love late in life; and several more.
With ensemble pieces, there is always a risk of not making the stories feel connected–or connecting them haphazardly for no real reason. One nice thing about “Me and You” is that, even though it is far from plot driven, the stories are well-connected both literally–all the characters are connected to at least one other character that the story follows, often more–and thematically. This movie is unabashedly about love and the connections people try to make in the modern world, and for all the pretension that such a theme might imply, the take on it is surprisingly well done and restrained.
Before I go into any specifics, I want to point out that this movie is a lot more than its theme and the deft handling of the ensemble format. It’s also beautifully shot, in particular for an indie movie, and well written, acted, and scored (with a soundtrack by none other than Michael Andrews, of Donnie Darko fame). I’ve always had more trouble getting into movies that are theme-driven, but the attention to detail, color, and every aspect of filmmaking made it really easy for “Me and You.” Although it has an odd flavor to it, this movie is still something that most people with any kind of passing interest in movies will find palatable, or at least intriguing. It plays like a series of whimsical stories, but July has great control over everything that’s going on. It shows.
But onto what this movie is, at least as far as I can tell, actually about. All the stories have people in various stages of love, or romance, or whatever you want to call it. Michael, the older man, laments that he fell for a woman he finds perfect late in his life, when they are stuck in a retirement home, after he spent most of his life with a woman he didn’t care for as much. The teenage girls are testing the confines of their sexuality, even going so far as to both perform oral sex on Peter to see who is “better.” The answer is a funny one-liner, a satisfying end to a slightly awkward scene, that is in line with the commentary July is making. Robby messages a woman about “pooping back and forth, forever” [which, disturbingly, has its own emoticon: “))<>((“]. Christine and Richard both desire some form of human intimacy, but have no knowledge of how to approach the subject.
These situations are all odd and more nuanced than that, but I mention them because I most appreciated how July makes no judgements of any of her characters. Are Heather and Rebecca overstepping a lot of boundaries with a dude they know nothing about? Yes. But they’re also young and naive. A lot of kids do stupid stuff, and while what they are doing could end negatively, July lets them be kids without treating them like idiots. Robby messages a stranger in a chat, but he’s also just a kid. He’s learning about himself by mimicking others, represented literally by him copying and pasting things that the stranger says, presumably because the words are too big for him to type.
Overall, “Me and You” is a thoughtful meditation on how all types of people attempt to find connections in what seems like a disconnected world. The clever insights are too numerous to list, and to do so would be silly. The whole of this movie is more than the sum of its parts, and even then the parts are pretty damn good. If you have Netflix Instant, you can catch this on there, and it’s also out on video. I can’t recommend it enough, even if it created an emoticon for people pooping back and forth into each other, forever.