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June 30, 2005

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As the opening credits to Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know roll, we watch the film's main character set his own hand on fire in a tragically failed bid to attract his two sons' attention. A mood of regret, desire and disaffection is established early on and, like a friend I saw it with tonight, I was afraid at first blush that we might be in for a serious dose of Solondz-style exploitation. And that was not anything I was remotely prepared for (am I ever?).

A quick laundry list of scenes and themes from Me and You... finds a thirty-something man sexually propositioning a pair of underaged girls, said teenage girls staging a blowjob contest with the help of a male classmate (as a 10-year-old neighbor girl watches on through the window), and a 7-year-old boy regularly engaging in coprophiliac internet sex chat—all of this playing out against a potentially abject emotional backdrop where a newly-single shoe salesman father gets the silent treatment from his kids as he struggles to connect with anyone, a video artist searches for her audience while spending her days shuttling old folks to the store and back, an elderly man meets the love of his life 60 years too late only to then lose her, and an unlucky goldfish meets its own ignoble demise on an LA freeway.

Given such topics and material, one could easily imagine a work of arch misanthropy, bitterness and spite. And yet, buoyed by an uncanny sense of tact and timing, this film comes off as hilarious and astonishingly sweet at every turn, striking a consistently human tone throughout.

As refreshing as it was lovely.

And, especially given July's pedigree as a video and performance artist, it was doubly nice to see her apply the same cool restraint when it came to handling her film's own art house cleverness. A number of scenes and bits of dialogue that might appear atrociously tedious or overwrought in many other such works, come off virtually without a hitch simply because the film is so well crafted overall. (And even July's skewering of art world BS is among the better I can recall.)

Much of this can be attributed to the performances of a terrific ensemble cast (with, of course, young Brandon Ratcliff [see: 1, 2, 3, 4] stealing nearly every scene). Mostly, though, it comes down to the pace and timing set in the editing room.

The film as a whole ends as abruptly and quietly as many of its judiciously pared-down scenes do, suspending the desire for narrative continuity and explicit development in favor of a wealth of suggestion. Though it took a moment or two for the ending to register as such with me, I did find myself seriously satisfied.

Refreshing, original and surprisingly sweet—and bound to be the art house film of the season.

I have a hunch that my mom wouldn't care for it much, though.

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Posted by Dan at 11:50 PM | Referenced URL's | Comments (12)