Miranda July as Christine Jesperson
John Hawkes as Richard Swersey
Ellen Geer as Ellen
Brad William Henke as Andrew
Jordan Potter as Shamus
Brandon Ratcliff as Robby
Jason A. Rice as Chad
Natasha Slayton as Heather
Najarra Townsend as Rebecca
Miles Thompson as Peter
Patricia Skeriotis as Saleswoman
James Symington as Goldfish dad
Carlie Westerman as Sylvie
Miranda July’s quirky debut is so strangely charming that you can’t help but warm up to her wonderfully odd view of the world and enjoy the time you get to spend in it.
Christine Jesperson (Miranda July) is a lonely performance artist living in a world full of people to whom she can’t connect. She finds a kindred spirit in Richard (John Hawkes), a subdued shoe store salesman, recently separated from his wife and trying to care for their two kids. Together, they must get past their angst and insecurities if they ever want to find happiness together.
That synopsis might not sound too enticing, but that’s only because it’s only a small part of New York performance artist Miranda July’s feature film debut, which was a darling of this year’s Sundance and Cannes film festivals. It’s rather difficult to explain what it’s about without describing every single scene, something that would greatly take away from what makes it so special. Like Paul Haggis’ Crash, it’s a movie about real people who don’t have anything in common and who you wouldn’t presume to have any reason to connect with one another.
July herself plays Christine, a video performance artist whose specialty is multimedia pieces where she talks the dialogue for people in pictures she finds. Next, we meet Richard, a shoe salesman who tries to set himself on fire as a form of expression when his African-American wife tells him she wants a separation. His two sons from that mixed marriage, Peter and Robby, get into all sorts of trouble while Richard’s at work including a strange internet encounter even odder than the cybersex between Jude Law and Clive Owen in Mike Nichols’ Closer. Peter’s friend Sylvie has her own issue, as the two older teen girls who mock her decide to flex their sexuality with a perverted older guy who leaves obscene notes for them on his window.
For much of the movie, you’re not exactly sure what you’re watching, because it rarely concerns itself with the normal storytelling conventions used in talking head movies. July is not afraid to connect with her inner weird in a series of vignettes which range from an innocuous scene with a fish sitting on the roof of a moving car or more observational moments, like when Christine hands an audition tape to a snobby art dealer, only to be told that she has to mail it to the same address. On their own, these scenes might not have much face value, but when they’re all joined together, they create a larger collage of how different people and personalities find a way to connect.
Just as the novelty is threatening to wear off, you find yourself rooting for these two seemingly incompatible people to be together. As much as they try to avoid it, Christine and Richard are perfect for each other. Their tenuous relationship brings to mind left-of-center romances like Benny and Joon, and it’s easy to relate to their feelings of inadequacy, as they try to find their place in a world in which they know they don’t fit. At times, the whole thing seems like its improvised, but the script is actually quite sharp with a dry comic wit not unlike “Six Feet Under.” The dialogue seems so natural and uncontrived that it’s not hard to believe that these strange situations might really happen.
Little of it would have worked if anyone but July played Christine, because she immediately makes this outspoken woman likeable. She seems as unselfconscious about expressing herself as an actress, as she does as a filmmaker. Likewise, John Hawkes, best known for his supporting role on HBO’s “Deadwood”, does a great job bringing the chronically oddball introvert Richard to life. The esoteric conversations between their two characters is the best part of the movie, and though they seem to strike out at every turn, you never feel sorry for them, because it never seems to bother them.
Beyond the story of these two people, July’s talented younger cast does a good job filling in the blanks, especially 6-year-old Brandon Ratcliff as Richard’s precocious younger son Robby, who is far wiser and more worldly then his years would dictate. The same can be said for Carlie Westerman as Syvie, who spends much of her time collecting things and obsessing about when she’s married. The three older teen actors do a decent job handling some rather grown-up material, but Ratcliff and Westerman often steal the movie from them.
The Bottom Line:
Like the early work of Todd Solonz, Miranda July’s quirky ideas won’t be for everyone, but it gives such a unique and full view of the human experience and what makes people so unique, that you can’t help but find it charming. Me and You and Everyone We Know is a wonderful debut that shows great promise for whatever July does next.
Me and You and Everyone We Know opens in New York on Friday and in Los Angeles on June 24.